Stormers play down fetcher’s importance
25 Jan 2012
The Stormers believe there will be life after Francois Louw and that the omission of a specialist fetcher will not compromise their largely successful game plan.
It’s been the topic of much debate in regional and international rugby circles over the past six or seven years, but there is certainly a lot of evidence that supports the argument for the inclusion of a specialist fetcher.
Peter de Villiers got it wrong in mid-2010 when he omitted a specialist in Heinrich Brussow’s injury-enforced absence, but even he was eventually convinced that these skills are integral to a top team’s success. This is why he subsequently recalled Louw as Brussow’s understudy for the 2011 World Cup.
Louw had shown what he was capable of at Super Rugby level with the Stormers. His skills on the ground played a crucial role in the Stormers’ defensive system, as he was able to slow the opposition attack to the point where his team-mates could realign on defence.
Nowadays, most successful teams appoint a man to play ‘the spoiler role’, for example the All Blacks and Crusaders’ Richie McCaw, the Wallabies’ David Pocock and on a smaller scale, the Reds’ Beau Robinson. All of these players formed part of successful teams that boasted exceptional defensive records, and much of the credit in this respect went to the openside flankers for the work they did in stifling the opposition attack.
The Stormers made no attempt to recruit a replacement for Louw in the off-season, and coach Allister Coetzee later explained that the plan was to promote one of the young flankers within the union once they were ready. Coetzee also said he would give men like Rohan Kitshoff and Reuben Johannes opportunities in the pre-season to stake a claim.
The plan at this stage, however, is to start Schalk Burger, Nick Koster and Duane Vermeulen in the back row in the first rounds of the Super Rugby tournament. With Vermeulen still sidelined at this point, Coetzee has opted to slot another big ball carrier (Siya Kolisi) into that back row for this weekend’s warm-up game against the Lions.
He may yet hand one of the fetchers a chance in the remaining pre-season fixtures, but he would have perhaps done better to play a specialist against Super Rugby teams like the Lions and Cheetahs who both have excellent players on the floor. It would have been a good exercise for the individuals, and it would have afforded the Stormers’ collective a chance to polish their playing patterns and game plan before the season starts.
On Tuesday, Coetzee said that the coming game represents a chance to shake off the rust and enjoy a full run within the team’s systems. He also doesn’t feel that the exclusion of a fetcher will compromise their game plan.
‘I expect most of the players to have a go on the ground. You can’t wait for a fetcher to run from one end of the field to another breakdown where you are,’ he said.
‘It is immaterial whether it’s Siya or Schalk, all the players have a responsibility to contest the ball on the floor. Everybody knows our breakdown policy and I expect them to stick to it.’
Captain Schalk Burger also didn’t view it as a problem. While some may have expected him to revert to a fetcher-type role in the absence of an out-and-out specialist, Burger confirmed that he would continue as he did in 2011. He also put his faith in the balance of the incumbent back row.
‘Flo is a fantastic player and by not having him we lose out on his experience, but Siya is an exciting prospect in his place and Nick has done it all before.
‘I think not having Flo will change things a bit, but I’ve had a good chat to the boys and we’ll have a look on the weekend to see if it works or not.’
Lions coach John Mitchell has opted to field Derick Minnie, Josh Strauss and Warren Whiteley in his back row for Friday’s warm-up. While both teams will be hoping for a synchronised showing up front, it will be interesting to see how the Lions fetcher, Minnie, fares against a Stormers team that’s missing a specialist on the floor.
By Jon Cardinelli