JON CARDINELLI speaks to Stormers forwards coach Matt Proudfoot about the crucial set-phase battle and why Victor Matfield will prove difficult to contain.
The Stormers have established themselves as the new bullies of the Super Rugby playground. Only three teams have stood up to them at the collisions in 2011, and in many ways the Reds, Crusaders and Chiefs have provided the blueprint on how to beat the Cape-based side.
While it should be another bloody affair at the tackle point this Saturday, Proudfoot is expecting the Bulls to target the Stormers' set-piece before striving for gain-line dominance. If the visitors succeed in compromising the Stormers at source, they will build momentum and eventually fracture that famed defence.
'There's no doubt in my mind that the set-phase battle will determine the outcome,' Proudfoot told keo.co.za. 'There's no getting around the fact that we have to confront them at the set-piece. We can't allow them to dominate these facets of play because once they build up a head of steam, they're extremely difficult to stop.
'The Bulls have a strong pack and kicking game, and we aren't expecting them to stray from their traditional strengths. What they do, they do well, and with their formidable lineout, they may attempt to maul us in an attempt to get on the front foot.'
The battle within a battle between Victor Matfield and Andries Bekker should be worth the price of admission. Both men are celebrated for their individual abilities as well as their impeccable lineout leadership.
Proudfoot admitted that only so much analysis could be done in preparation for a side containing Matfield, the Springboks most capped and decorated player. If Bekker and company don't anticipate Matfield's movements this Saturday and the Bulls manage to dominate this set-piece, the visitors will make inroads into the Stormers' defence.
'It's going to be very hard to put pressure on Victor at the lineout. He's just so good at absorbing pressure and I'm sure he'll have a few tricks up his sleeve,' Proudfoot said. 'When the Bulls establish set-piece dominance and start to maul successfully, then they usually build on that dominance by carrying the ball a lot more and challenging at the collisions.
'At the breakdown, the defending side will try to slow down opposition ball in order to give their team more opportunity to realign for the next phase. But whether we're on attack or defence, we have to put the Bulls under pressure at the set-piece to give ourselves the best chance of winning the collisions.'