Sharks show Bulls the way
29 May 2012
RYAN VREDE writes the Sharks laid down the blueprint on how to beat the Stormers last week.
The 25-20 scoreline flattered the Stormers. The try that got them back into the contest was birthed from a pass that was clearly forward and the Sharks reverted to a holding pattern after establishing a comfortable lead which made them more vulnerable than they had previously been. But overall the Durban franchise comprehensively outplayed their visitors, building their victory on unfailingly accurate defence amplified by brutal physicality at the gainline, and, more importantly, an excellent tactical kicking game.
The Stormers’ attacking challenges have been well documented, but they don’t stem from a lack of momentum at the gainline. Indeed their primary ball-carriers have been efficient and mostly dominant. However, their backline play has been sterile and unimaginative. On Saturday, however, those Stormers strike runners in the heavies were rendered futile for the bulk of the contest, as they were regularly made to launch from deep in their territory as a result of the Sharks’ impressive kicking game.
From there the Sharks’ defence line held firm, forcing the Stormers to kick or run from positions they didn’t favour. Their attacks became increasingly desperate and disjointed as the contest wore on, easing the Sharks’ defensive task. The pressure the Sharks were able to exert on defence accounted for many of their scoring opportunities and they showed a clinical edge in finishing that the Stormers have yet to exhibit.
Furthermore, the Stormers’ lineout was under immense pressure. With the opposition having been astute in their analysis and the heat turned up, yet again Andries Bekker failed to command the lineout with any authority. It is a worrying trend and underlines the reason Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer has reservations about Bekker as a Test player, specifically since statistics reveal that the highest percentage of tries in Test rugby in recent seasons have been birthed from attacking lineouts in or just outside the opposition’s 22m. He will start with Bekker in the England series but will have to panel beat his mind for him to realise his full potential.
The strategy employed by the Sharks is not uncommon for the elite sides that have faced the Stormers. The key to its success was of course its accurate execution. Certainly the Bulls attempted to stifle the Stormers in this manner when they met at Newlands in March. A weak first half effort, where they failed to repel the Stormers from their 22m – undermined their cause, Joe Pietersen capitalising on the pressure they created by kicking three penalties and converting Tiaan Liebenberg’s try for a 14-0 half-time lead. The Bulls rebounded well, drawing level before Peter Grant stole the win with a 77th minute penalty.
The Bulls had managed to enforce their will on the Stormers in the second 40, the difference in the result on that evening and the one at Kings Park being the Sharks’ ability to sustain their effort through 80 minutes. This has been the Bulls’ Achilles heel to date, with many of their performances marked by extended periods where they appear to lose concentration. It has been terminal in some cases and in others not so, but one can safely bet the Stormers have the capacity to punish them if this trend continues.
The Bulls have the personnel to replicate the Sharks’ approach, although they will lament the absence of the abrasive Jacques Potgieter. But whether they are accurate in their execution will be critical to their fortunes.