JON CARDINELLI says the Stormers must turn defence into attack when it comes to marking the all-but-irrepressible Sonny Bill Williams.
There’s a name that encapsulates a strategy and attitude that is absolutely non-negotiable when playing the Crusaders. That name is Shaun Treeby.
Treeby’s been a consistent performer for the resurgent Highlanders, but there is one performance that stands out above the rest. He was a key man in the Highlanders’ recent win over the Crusaders, and will be remembered as the man who made the seemingly invulnerable Sonny Bill Williams look decidedly ordinary.
It was a team effort that led to that upset, and the Highlanders’ forwards should be commended for their telling part in a combative scrap. What was most impressive about the Highlanders’ performance was that the physical fight wasn’t limited to the rucks and set-pieces, but extended to the midfield as well.
The Stormers need to embrace a similar mentality this weekend. They’ve managed some big wins already this season, with their hard-nosed forwards inflicting a physical beating on the Bulls and Sharks, the latter on two separate occasions.
What was notable about the second win against the Sharks was the imposing showing by the Stormers’ centres. Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie were under pressure to produce, and De Villiers especially didn’t disappoint. The Stormers No 12 took the fight to the Sharks, cutting down their space and getting in their faces.
Coach Allister Coetzee has spoken already about stopping the Crusaders at source this Saturday, as limiting the Cantabrians at the set-piece and collisions will go a long way to stifling their dangerous back division. But this can only be seen as phase one of the masterplan, as that back division does have the ability to conjure something out of nothing if they are afforded any sort of space.
The Crusaders will miss Dan Carter. As the statistics will show, Williams and centre-partner Robbie Fruean are more devastating when Carter starts at 10, making the initial breaks or defence-cracking offloads that create further opportunities for the Crusaders’ lethal back three. Having said that, Williams and Fruean are still more dangerous than most when Mat Berquist plays flyhalf.
If the Stormers manage to outmuscle the Crusaders’ forwards, they need to go a step further in cutting down the backline’s space. De Villiers’s personal battle with Williams will be the most influential in this respect, as getting up quickly will prevent the All Black centre from picking up momentum. This will limit his impact on the gain line, and ensure that trademark offload becomes a liability rather than a game-breaking touch. As seen in the Crusaders’ loss to the Highlanders, a spilled offload can create opportunities for the defence.
The Bulls were ignorant in their approach to the Crusaders, claiming Sonny Bill Williams was just another name in a list of 22 that they would have to tackle. The Stormers can’t make the same mistake. They need to win the battle up front, but they also need to pay special attention to nullifying Williams.
He’s scored four tries already this season, but it’s the tries he’s created with his 36 offloads and 10 linebreaks that will attract the most interest. His partnership with Fruean has been particular potent if you consider that the Crusaders’ No 13 has benefited to make 15 linebreaks and score four tries of his own.
The Stormers’ defence will have to look after Williams’s channel and be simultaneously aware of the switch back inside. Lionel Cronje passed a test on defence last week, and given Peter Grant’s ongoing battle with a knee injury, he may have to pass another against the Crusaders.
But as far as the backline defensive blitz goes, it is De Villiers and Fourie that can inflict the most damage. The two Bok centres showed their quality against the Sharks, and while there is ongoing criticism of the Stormers’ attack, they must realise that the team that wins the collisions and contest for territory will win this particular match.