Stormers should take lesson from Loftus
12 Mar 2012
JON CARDINELLI writes that you can’t afford to botch scoring opportunities against an attacking team as dangerous as the Blues.
It was a harsh lesson for the Bulls to learn at Loftus Versfeld last Saturday. The Blues were just as erratic, just as ill-disciplined and disorganised as they had been in the previous two rounds, but when they had opportunities they made them count.
By comparison, the Bulls blew scoring chances in the first half and failed to translate early possession and territorial dominance into points. They will look back at this fixture and realise it was, as most punters said beforehand, a match they should have won.
But the Blues’ win at Loftus will have emphasised a pertinent point: you can’t take this star-studded yet limited collective for granted. The match also showed what not to do against a side of this ilk, and it is here where the Stormers, who will host the Blues this coming Friday, must be wary.
The Cape Franchise managed to win their first two matches regardless of their finishing failings. Their most recent performance against a depleted Sharks outfit saw the Stormers missing four shots at goal and several try-scoring opportunities. Again coach Allister Coetzee credited gritty defence in the aftermath, but the Stormers will need to do more than defend if they’re going to keep the Blues at bay.
The Blues may have raced to an early lead against the Bulls, but spent the better part of the first half defending. The Bulls struggled to cash in on scoring opportunities, and were made to rue these misses later in the game. They even had the extra advantage when Ali Williams was yellow-carded, but only managed to score five points during that 10-minute period.
The Stormers have also shown a lack of killer instinct. They battled to put a 13-man Hurricanes side away in the first match. It took a 78th-minute penalty by Peter Grant to win the game against the Sharks, and afterwards Coetzee and his captain Jean de Villiers admitted the attack wasn’t good enough.
What has been encouraging has been the intensity and physicality at the collisions. The Stormers will need to be similarly robust against a Blues pack that has the personnel to dominate the gainline and breakdown battles if not the set pieces.
What the Stormers will need to improve substantially if they are going to deny the Blues forward momentum is their accuracy at the breakdown. They can’t afford to give away penalties, as the Blues have a reliable goal-kicker in Gareth Anscombe. And they can’t concede turnovers, as the Blues have the skills and killer instinct to make these rare chances count.
This was the big difference between the two sides at Loftus last week. The Blues were outplayed at the lineout, losing three on their own throw, but their great work at the breakdown and subsequent finishing allowed them to take the lead on the scoreboard. Two breakdown turnovers culminated in two tries.
The Stormers boast a formidable defence, but so too do the Bulls. It is harder to defend turnover ball and so the Stormers should be mindful that attacking precision could in fact help their defence on Friday.
Coetzee has often said that outstanding defence is the bedrock of the Stormers game, and that defensive pressure creates attacking opportunities. But this Friday, good ball retention and discipline will deny the Blues possession and it will deny them the counter-attacking chances that so often produce tries.
It is also not enough to merely keep the ball out of the Blues’ reach. The Stormers must succeed where the Bulls failed; they must capitalise on their scoring chances, be they penalties or tries, and maintain their accuracy and intensity levels for 80 minutes.