Stormers deny breakdown blues

Allister Coetzee expects referees to be much stricter in the coming Super Rugby competition and it’s for this reason that he’s not concerned about the Stormers’ recent defeat at the breakdown.

It’s at this time of the year that coaches talk about ‘putting structures in place’, ‘shaking off the rust’, as well as ‘assessing the quality of performance’. While Coetzee has used these phrases liberally in the build up to the 2012 tournament, he’s also employed a selection policy aimed at handing a squad in excess of 40 players game time to ensure the Stormers won’t be lacking for depth in a competition that starts in February and ends in August.

Nevertheless, there have been several areas of concern. The decision not to seek a replacement for specialist openside flank Francois Louw in the off-season seems flawed, although Coetzee maintains the current defensive systems are geared towards a collective ‘fetching’ effort rather than that of an individual.

And yet, the Stormers have struggled in this department thus far. They may have won comfortably against the Lions but both the Stormers coach and captain admitted afterwards that their defensive breakdown work was sub-standard.

Last Saturday, they came second to the Cheetahs who do possess a specialist fetcher in Heinrich Brüssow, but this still wasn’t enough to force Coetzee to reassess his stance on the matter.

‘I saw a big improvement at the breakdown,’ said Coetzee. ‘We conceded fewer penalties and our discipline was far better if you consider that we conceded three yellow cards in that Lions match.

‘As for the Cheetahs’ performance [and their perceived victory at the breakdown], I’m not too worried. It has nothing to do with having a [specialist] opensider. They were lucky to get away with murder in some instances, and I’m not criticising the referee [Craig Joubert] but referees will be much harsher in the Super Rugby competition.

‘There was a lot of spoiling, a lot of things like players joining from the side and plenty of cynical play. I know refs will be more lenient on that in the pre-season because there is a bit of coaching that goes on, but it won’t be like that once the competition kicks off. Craig did penalise the Cheetahs for some infringements, but perhaps where it was cynical there needed to be a harsher punishment.

‘The Cheetahs also came to Cape Town with the aim to win, and that was evident in the way they played with their kicking game. For me, I’m never happy to lose at home, but I’m satisfied with the answers I received from this match.’

The Stormers have now played three warm-up matches and will play their final pre-season game against the Kings this Saturday. Coetzee is set to make the final squad cut in the next two days, and he reiterated that the clash with the Cheetahs had shown him why some players are ready for Super Rugby while others require more time to develop.

‘It’s clear to me that some players require one-on-one technical work, and they won’t be in the final squad.

‘That’s not to say they won’t be used later in the season. It’s a long competition and you need to lean on your greater squad. What that means is that we need to work with the guys that don’t make it now to ensure they are ready to make the step up later.’

By Jon Cardinelli