The Stormers’ ability to execute effectively will ultimately determine if they are able to run up a big win against the Lions at Ellis Park this Saturday, writes former Springbok hooker JAMES DALTON for SA Rugby Magazine
It will be interesting to see whether the bookies have called it right or wrong with their small handicap for the Lions, as Saturday’s clash could be a 20-point haul or a tight win for the Cape Town side.
On the field, the Lions look a bit like a hamster on a wheel. They’re doing a lot of nothing and they’re frantic. Individuals seem to be shooting out of place on defence, there is no cohesion on attack and players are off their feet at ruck time and unable to realign quick enough defensively.
Without wanting to knock new coach Ivan van Rooyen, Swys de Bruin’s absence is apparent after two rounds when looking at team coherence.
The Stormers, conversely, look direct and measured in the hands of John Dobson. I’ve cautioned against the risk and tiring effects of the rush defence that they, among the other South African sides, have been implementing. Yet it has worked well thus far.
On paper the Stormers are both better man for man than the Lions and appear the more settled of the two sides.
However, the Vodacom Bulls – a team I feel have been underrated so far – showed that the dominance displayed by the Stormers against the Hurricanes can be limited when they are physically strangled and unable to use their attacking X factor.
The Sharks dismantled the Highlanders away from home with their attack, capitalising on mistakes, but just a week earlier were struggling to find the same gaps against the Bulls.
Equally, the Stormers faced the same struggle against the Bulls just a week after smothering the Hurricanes. What Saturday’s clash with the Lions will ultimately come down to is whether the Stormers manage to position themselves to use their attack and then sustain their impressive defence.
If the Lions are able to be disruptive and physical and capitalise on the 20-minute lulls that the Stormers seem to go through, then the visitors may struggle to find the tryline and the bookies, with their +6.5-point handicap to the Lions, could be on the money.
What I believe will most likely happen, though, whether the Lions pose a physical challenge or not, is that they won’t be able to match the Stormers’ cohesion and also won’t be able to put points past them. In this case the result is essentially based on how many points the Stormers are able to score.
The Stormers have the forward dominance and halfback pairing, as well as the overall flair to score points, but the Bulls showed that this can be suffocated.
The Cape side will win on Saturday, but it will be interesting to see whether it’s a 20-point submission or a seven-point scrape.