Attacking test looms in Cup decider

JON CARDINELLI writes that the Sharks will need to innovate as well as intimidate if they’re going to make inroads into the formidable WP defence.

Defence was the bedrock upon which the Stormers’ 2010 campaign was built. Opposition teams struggled to breach their defensive line, while the Stormers’ forwards did exceptionally well to slow and in some instances steal possession at the breakdown. Individuals and combinations were hailed for their decision making, the key ingredient to any successful defensive recipe.

Having built on the Super 14 effort, Western Province are the top defensive side in the Currie Cup. They’ve been boosted by the return of their Springboks, as Schalk Burger and Jean de Villiers have contributed greatly in this department. Although he hasn’t been as accurate as he was in the Sanzar tournament, Francois Louw has also put opposition teams under pressure at the breakdown.

So what will the opposition be thinking? Those who followed Allister Coetzee’s musings throughout the Super 14 will know the answer.

After the Stormers had established themselves as a near-impregnable unit, Coetzee said that attacking teams would need to think outside the box. ‘If they can’t go around us or through us, they will try to go over us,’ he explained, the latter option in reference to a kicking game aimed at fracturing WP’s defence.

But let’s consider the option of intimidation. The Sharks may feel they have what it takes to go through WP, such has been their ball retention stats of late. Willem Alberts and Bismarck du Plessis will be the primary ball-carriers before the secondary speedsters like Keegan Daniel and Ryan Kankowski have a crack. If those forwards create the momentum, the potent Sharks backs will have the platform to punch through.

I don’t think it will be that easy, though. A lot’s been written about the Sharks’ hunger in their recent victory over the Bulls, but there’s plenty of hunger and attitude about the Province side, not least of all in the shape of their captain. Burger, along with the menacing and unrelenting form of Duane Vermeulen, have massive stopping power on defence. It’s for this reason that the Sharks may have to pursue another avenue of attack.

The Stormers’ defence wasn’t a factor in the Super 14 final, because the Bulls played a superior tactical game. Halfbacks Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn kicked accurately, probing for space behind the Cape defence and launching high bombs that forced the opposition into errors. Once they had won the territorial battle, the Big Blue Machine capitalised on the momentum. They piled on the pressure and translated that into points.

The Sharks will take a lesson from that game, although this season’s Currie Cup will also factor into their planning. WP have often been exposed by a chip kick or grubber that inevitably fractured the defence. This was evident in their first game against the Cheetahs where a Tewis de Bruyn chip was regathered by Hennie Daniller. WP’s dismal showing in Johannesburg was also down to an inability to deal with the tactic.

Sharks flyhalf Pat Lambie has already shown a few innovative touches this season. His tactical execution and decision making this Saturday will determine how the Sharks fair against this WP defence. The war of attrition will inevitably be waged by Alberts and company, but it will take more than direct running to put this Province side in a spin.

Du Preez and Steyn backed themselves to kick on Gio Aplon and Joe Pietersen in the Super 14 final despite the pair’s counterattacking prowess. Accuracy will once again be the watchword if this Sharks side uses similar means of unsettling a well-organised WP team.

And the margin for error is slim. Accurate probes will give the Sharks an advantage, but poor kicks could prove costly.

WP have a conservative reputation due to their flyhalf’s tendency to play the percentages, but with men like Aplon in tow, they remain a devastating counterattacking force. So while good use of the attacking kick will see the Sharks prosper, poor implementation will see them punished.

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