Cape showdown set to sizzle

RYAN VREDE analyses the semi-final at Newlands, highlighting that the Stormers will have to back their granitic defence in periods where the Sharks hit the NOS button.

The Stormers won’t veer from the formula that helped them top the overall log and earn a home semi-final. Kick-chase and brutal, suffocating and accurate defence will be the bedrock upon which they hope to build their victory. It won’t be pretty, but the Stormers will point to three semi-finals in three years as vindication for sticking with the ugly broad because of her unfailing efficiency.

The Stormers simply don’t miss enough tackles for the Sharks to bank on exploiting such lapses. They are the best in the tournament in this facet of play – missing an average of 10.6 per game. Tellingly, the vast majority of those misses have come in the opposition’s 22m, with the Stormers boasting the best record for accurate tackles in the remainder of the field (between the 22m and their tryline). Furthermore, Jean de Villiers’ men have also allowed a minimal number of tackle offloads (the Sharks have the 2nd highest for this), indicating that they are often making dominant hits, as opposed to simply stopping the carriers’ momentum.

This is significant in the context of the pace the Sharks like to play at. Their ball in play time is the second highest in the tournament, with surges of dynamic, breathless and inspired play marking their victories over the Cheetahs, Bulls and most recently, the Reds.

Notably, this type of ‘switch flick’ also happened against the Stormers at Kings Park in May, where they scored three tries in a 27-minute period that was only rivaled for excellence by their first quarter in Brisbane last week. They will hope to replicate such power plays and, if successful, the Stormers will have to call on all their defensive organisation, composure, accuracy and resolve to repel them.

Forcing the Sharks to play from deep in their territory will aid the Stormers’ cause in this regard and they will look to achieve this through tactical kicks in behind their back three, or bombs from their primary kickers Dewaldt Duvenage, Peter Grant and Joe Pietersen.

The tactic’s success is dependent on the quality of the chase. The Sharks have shown themselves to be adept at scoring from broken field situations, which demands the Stormers’ kicking game is on point. When it has been, they have been able to force penalties, on which their success has rested. Grant is the competitions’ best goal-kicker, banking 30 of 31 penalty attempts, which is ominous for the Durban franchise if their discipline fails them in kickable positions. They are fifth highest in the competition for penalties conceded in their 22m but among the most disciplined between their 22m and halfway.

If the Sharks can remain disciplined, they will have won a key battle. The Stormers’ attacking impotency with ball in hand is well known. They are among the weakest teams for tackles broken and clean linebreaks. Forcing them to turn to these weaknesses must be a priority for the visitors. The Stormers can, however, draw some confidence from the fact the Sharks miss an average of 20.6 tackles per game, the highest by volume in the tournament.

From an attacking perspective, the Sharks have lost every game where they have been restricted in their ability to set up rucks and mauls (for whatever reason – starved of possession, turnovers at the breakdown ect). In order to avoid this they will rely heavily on their strike runners in the pack to consistently boss the gainline. I’ve already noted that this will be no easy feat against the best defence in the tournament, but with the likes of Willem Alberts, Bismarck du Plessis, Marcell Coetzee and Beast Mtawarira, they certainly have the personnel to succeed.

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