Stormers must handle first-half heat

Allister Coetzee believes the Stormers will need to dominate the forward exchanges and bank early points if they’re going to stall the rampant Sharks.

The Stormers have produced some commanding first-half performances over the course of the 2012 season. If there has been one period of the game where they have consistently flagged, it’s been in the third quarter, and it is that lack of concentration that has often allowed the opposition back into the contest.

That being said, it’s interesting to note that the Stormers are not a team that excels at chasing the game. Indeed, in their two losses to the Crusaders and Sharks this season, they have trailed at half-time.

The Sharks won that derby in Durban 25-20 after leading 20-6 at the break. They also made a massive statement when they went to Brisbane last Saturday and scored 17 unanswered points in the first half hour.

No doubt they will be looking for another strong start in this weekend’s semi-final, as it will put the Stormers into a position where the Cape side will need to chase the game.

The Stormers coach believes there are lessons to be taken from the Stormers’ earlier defeat to the Sharks, and that the first-half showing will be important to the outcome.

‘It’s always a tight affair when these two teams play,’ he said. ‘There was three points in it in the first match, five points in the second and I’m sure it will be similarly close this Saturday.

‘[In the Durban fixture] they did well in the first half, they really looked to attack our set piece. When you can’t get lineout or scrum ball on your own terms, it can make life very difficult.

‘We were really unhappy with our first-half performance in that game. We lost a lot of ball in contact and made errors which they duly punished. It’s something the Crusaders did to us in last year’s semi-final, where they really pressured us at the set pieces.

‘We are looking for a good start but we are also looking to sustain that for 80 minutes.’

The Sharks boast an all-Springbok front row and have been one of the leading scrummaging teams in 2012. Their lineout is competitive, which as Coetzee suggests makes it very difficult for opponents to secure good set-piece possession.

They have some powerful ball carriers capable of dominating the collisions, as well as several players who are exceptionally good when it comes to turning the ball over at the breakdown.

Coetzee again highlighted the need for a top set-piece effort this Saturday, as well as an accurate breakdown performance that will limit the Sharks’ turnover opportunities. The Stormers boast the best defence in the competition, but that defence is more susceptible on turnover ball.

‘You can’t give them turnover ball, they use it very well,’ said Coetzee in reference to the Sharks’ performance against the Reds. ‘That’s what happens when you lose the collisions and you don’t look after your possession. And by looking after your possession, I mean winning clean ball at the set pieces too.’

The Sharks won’t be as fresh as their Cape counterparts, having had to fly to Australia and back within the space of a week. Coetzee, however, insists that the Stormers wouldn’t be taking anything for granted this Saturday.

The Stormers coach said the prospect of hosting a final at Newlands would serve as extra motivation to beat the Sharks.

‘This is what we’ve worked for all season, and knowing that we could have a home final is also a massive incentive. We are really close to achieving that. That’s why we view this weekend’s game as a big opportunity.

‘There’s going to be pressure, but we’re going to embrace it. We’re not just going to absorb it, but handle it.’

By Jon Cardinelli