JON CARDINELLI says the Reds’ tactical triumph on Saturday was similar to the Bulls’ savvy beating of the Stormers in the 2010 Super 14 final.
The Stormers’ problems at the set-piece were once again exposed at the weekend. Discipline was an issue, as I feared it would be, and the Stormers were tactically outkicked by Wallabies halfbacks Will Genia and Quade Cooper.
The game produced one try but it was a captivating contest from start to finish. No team has kicked more than the Reds in 2011, and while they have a reputation for thrilling exploits with ball in hand, they can be devastating when they put ball to boot. This was once again evident on Saturday, as Genia and Cooper took charge.
The Reds knew that it would be difficult to penetrate the Stormers formidable defence – and despite the defeat, the Stormers defence was once again excellent – and so they opted for what has become a popular tactic against the Stormers. If you can’t go through that blue and white wall, you go over it with a kick.
Last year, the Bulls beat the Stormers in the Super 14 final thanks to the kicking accuracy of Fourie du Preez and Morne Steyn. The Bulls forwards were magnificent, but it was the tactical probes and booming garryowens that ultimately unsettled the Stormers’ defenders, and subsequently allowed the Bulls to play their attacking rugby in opposition territory.
The Reds adopted a similar style last Saturday. They tested the Stormers defence early on with a ball-in-hand approach, and when they failed to make ground, they employed the boot. Genia launched several box kicks as well as a few rolling kicks aimed at the corners. Cooper was often positioned at fullback, and his kicks from the back usually found space or dribbled into touch.
Losing the territorial battle was always going to be a problem for a team with a shaky set-piece. The Stormers scrum has blown hot and cold all season, and their lineout accuracy has been poor. They have one of the world’s best lineout exponents in Andries Bekker, as well as quality options in Duane Vermeulen and Schalk Burger, but Deon Fourie continues to struggle with his feed to this set-piece.
In the second half of Saturday’s clash, Fourie failed to find a Stormers jumper when the hosts were camped on their own line. The Stormers were fortunate that the Reds didn’t capitalise on this mistake.
Fourie’s wayward throws are also preventing the Stormers from building continuity on attack. When the Stormers are in promising field positions, they’re not guaranteed a win on their own ball. It’s for this reason that the Stormers management is hoping Tiaan Liebenberg recovers from injury sooner rather than later.
Discipline and accuracy at the breakdown were sorely lacking. The Reds got under the skin of Vermeulen as early as the ninth minute. Frustration got the better of Deon Fourie when he tripped a Reds player in the 67th. Both received yellow cards, and you just don’t win big Super Rugby games when you play 20 minutes with 14 men.
It wasn’t a surprise to see the Stormers finish the match tryless. They battled to take the ball through sufficient phases to trouble the Reds defence, and were often turned over in the tackle.
The Reds decision-makers, usually Genia or Cooper, would then kick the ball into space and send the Stormers back into their own territory. The Reds knew that with Peter Grant’s pop-gun boot, the Stormers would struggle to kick their way out of their own half. They also knew that with the Stormers’ misfiring set-piece and errant breakdown approach, they would also struggle to build a ball-in-hand attack.
The Stormers still boast a great record of six wins in seven matches, but the recent defeat highlighted some ongoing concerns that must be addressed. Their current approach is good enough to get them into a playoff position, but as seen by their tactical failure in the 2010 final, it won’t be good enough to win a title.