JON CARDINELLI writes that Andries Bekker will need to outplay Nathan Sharpe at the lineout if the Stormers are going to claim the set-piece ascendancy in Perth.
In the pre-season, the Stormers would have identified the fixture against the Force as the easiest of their four-match tour to Australasia. As it’s transpired, the Force have struggled as the season has progressed, and to make matters worse their coach has quit in the middle of the competition. You wouldn’t expect them to trouble a team near the top of the log.
However, what would have been targeted as one of the Stormers more comfortable wins has suddenly become a big ask. The Stormers will travel to Perth without Schalk Burger or Duane Vermeulen. Eben Etzebeth is in doubt, and the latest news is that Nick Koster has a serious knee injury and will return to South Africa.
Nizaam Carr is expected to replace Vermeulen at the back of the Stormers scrum. It will be of some consolation that the front row remains intact, and coach Allister Coetzee will be hoping for a strong showing at this set piece.
What Coetzee will be less certain about is the impending battle at the lineout, as the Stormers will field a new combination and will be up against one of the game’s legends in Nathan Sharpe.
In Bekker and De Kock Steenkamp the Stormers have two fine lineout exponents, but they will miss Vermeulen at the tail. Rynhardt Elstadt has played a lot of Super Rugby in the second row, and may be asked to play a greater role at this set piece.
Despite languishing near the bottom of the log, the Force boast one of the better lineouts in the competition. In Sharpe they have one of the world’s best individual jumpers and lineout managers, as Victor Matfield himself has claimed on more than one occasion.
The Force are extremely competitive at the breakdown, and again they boast one of the world’s best in David Pocock in this area. Even in their depleted form, the Stormers should brace themselves for another scrap at the rucks and collisions, although if they can gain set-piece ascendancy it will make their task at the breakdown far easier.
Bekker is going to be crucial in this regard. If ever the Stormers needed a massive performance from the giant lock, it is in Perth this Saturday.
Bekker needs to ensure that the visitors win their own ball cleanly, but he also needs to disrupt Sharpe and company. If he proves successful, it will have a knock-on effect and deny the Force front-foot ball. If the Force are denied clean ball at the lineout, it will cut down their limited attacking options.
The Stormers have been far from consistent at the lineout, and were guilty of numerous errors in last week’s match against the Reds. Many of these mistakes were on their own ball, as they failed to secure possession in great field positions and in one instance sent a throw into the grateful hands of James Horwill just metres from their own tryline.
The latest bout of injuries mean the Stormers will field a new forward combination this Saturday, and so there is a chance that they will struggle for synergy at the lineouts yet again. It will be interesting to note how Bekker responds to this challenge, how he rallies his troops as a leader and how he fares as an individual jumper.
The lineout is one of the few weapons the Force have in their arsenal. The Stormers need to nullify this threat if they hope to win what is an important game in the context of both their tour and season.