JON CARDINELLI says the Stormers need to be wary of the Reds’ niggling tactics.
It’s great to have the Reds in town. Men like Quade Cooper and Ewen McKenzie talk rugby the way they play rugby, that is without fear of criticism or future embarrassment. They realise that it’s all part of the theatrics, and that while hundreds of thousands of fans are listening to their confident words, their opponents are also in the loop.
McKenzie fired the first shot when he said that the Reds are capable of meeting the Stormers head-on. The set-piece stats suggest that the Reds coach has a point, but it’s highly unlikely that the Reds will be as direct as the Sharks or Bulls. Against an impressive defensive system and a fired-up Stormers pack, it wouldn’t pay to go direct.
South African teams pride themselves on their physicality, and you’ll never catch the Bulls or Sharks changing their plans because they feel the Stormers have a physical edge. It’s much the same when South Africa plays New Zealand, a traditional match-up that’s typified by titanic collisions, bumps, bruises and the occasional broken bone.
The Aussies don’t try to meet the physical challenge of the South Africans, because they don’t have the personnel. But what they lack in brawn and bloodymindedness, they compensate for in brains. And this incorporates play that’s illegal as well legal, because at the end of the day the only man who differentiates between the two is the matchday referee.
The Reds don’t have the physicality to match the Stormers. McKenzie knows that, and as modest and humble as he is, Allister Coetzee knows that. The Stormers coach fed the media a fitting description of the Reds on Wednesday, calling the boys from Brisbane one of the more streetwise teams in the competition. No doubt the Reds will bring some physicality to the Newlands melee this Saturday, but we should also expect some off-the-ball niggle and a fair few tricks.
The Stormers are unbeaten after six matches, but there is no risk of complacency in a tournament that spans four months. They boast the best defensive system in the competition, and as long as they are winning, they feel no need to force the try-scoring issue.
Opponents have to think carefully about breaking them down: there’s the option of kicking in behind their defensive line, or the option of outmuscling them at the gain-line. There’s also the option of getting under their skin and trying to push that trademark physicality to a level that results in a match-swinging sanction.
The Stormers passed the test of physicality in Pretoria, and proved it was no fluke by manhandling the Sharks in Durban. They’re expected to beat the Reds, but the Aussies will present a very different challenge. Everybody is talking about their free-running backs when it’s the forward exchanges that demand focus. Take the Reds pack out of the equation, and Will Genia and Quade Cooper are no attacking threat.
The Reds know that they have to provide these players with a platform, and will niggle at the Stormers in an attempt to win a reaction. This will be a big test of the Stormers’ ability to adapt to the referee’s interpretations, and also a big test of their composure. The Reds can’t outmuscle the Stormers, but they will work to ensure the Cape side’s aggression works to the visitors’ advantage.
Bismarck du Plessis was the man designated with those responsibilities last week, and the tactic didn’t work for the Sharks. The Stormers must maintain their discipline at the set-piece and breakdowns, because men like Beau Robinson and Scott Higginbotham are going to be pushing their buttons.
Coetzee has asked for more of the same this week, and it’s true that the Stormers need to maintain their high physical standards. What they need to improve is their accuracy, and ensure that indiscipline doesn’t creep into their game. If they fail in this respect, we could be in for one of the big upsets of the season.