Granitic Stormers command respect

Frans Ludeke says the Stormers’ defensive potency stems of the simplicity of their system and their accuracy and physicality at the tackle point.

The Stormers come into the final at the Orlando Stadium as the outstanding defensive unit in the tournament. They delivered another masterclass in the semi-final against the Waratahs, restricting a team laden with game breakers and one who had scored 45 tries in their preceding 13 matches to six points from penalties. They’ll have to summon that same resolve against the Bulls on Saturday.

The defending champions are expected to adopt a relatively pragmatic approach on attack, but have exhibited their ability to vary between the conservative and expansive – their 61-17 victory over the Chiefs in the 2009 final testament to that tactical flexibility. The Bulls finished the league-phase of the tournament as with the best try-scoring record, having consistently achieved bonus-point victories at home.

Asked for his thoughts on the secret to the Stormers’ defensive success and how they planned to unhinge them Ludeke told ‘They’re physical and accurate at the gain line and they don’t commit a lot of numbers to rucks, they back the guys who get there to make an impact. It’s simple but very effective.’

This has the obvious benefit of those not committed to the breakdown being able to fan out in the defensive line, ensuring that they are well placed to resist through numerous phases. Few teams have been able to build up the momentum to consistently put them under the pump, but Ludeke was confident his charges would provide a stern examination of their southern rivals.

‘They’ve got a system that they clearly believe in. The challenge for us is to be strong in contact so we get the go-forward we need and get some momentum into our attacks and create try-scoring opportunities,’ he said.

However, Ludeke refused to get swept away with the best defence versus best attack comparison.

‘It’s only stats, none of it will count in the final,’ he said. ‘This new game and all that will matter who is able to execute best over the 80 minutes. We’ve had a whole season as a dress rehearsal for Saturday – how to get out of tight situations when you’re under pressure and so on. So we’re pretty confident we’re prepared.’

While the Stormers’ march to the final has been built on their highly effective defence, Ludeke doesn’t underestimate their attacking prowess and was acutely aware of their ability to explore various avenues of attack.

‘We’ll expect anything from the Stormers. They’ve been pretty successful playing in a certain way, but they’ve been able to switch between styles throughout the season,’ he said.

By Ryan Vrede, in Pretoria