So, I see there’s a lot of talk doing the rounds about how the Stormers now have a tight five to be reckoned with. To my mind, they seem to have overlooked the fact that they, in fact, didn’t win on Saturday night.
Now claiming brownie points for “standing up physically” to a Bulls pack that doesn’t include Bakkies Botha and has the lightweight Derick Kuün at hooker is not exactly something to write home about. The only hard men left in that Bulls engine room these days are Rayno Gerber and Danie Rossouw, for goodness sakes! Add the fact that the Stormers at least have a proper tighthead prop and have stopped picking a centre at hooker and it starts to be pretty self evident that they should have been encouraged by their performance.
So it seems that Rassie wants to tweak the machine further, by bringing in Bulls discard Adriaan Fondse to partner Andries Bekker in the second row. It all makes good sense and I’m pretty pleased for the Stormers that they’re finally building a credible tight five. Let’s just have a look at the task that awaits them in Durban, before we get too excited, though.
The Sharks will line up with Mtawarira, Bismarck du Plessis, Botha, Ackermann and Muller in the tight five, just as they did last week. The Stormers will comprise Moller, Liebenberg, Mujati, Fondse and Bekker. In reserve, the Sharks will have some (or all) of Lensing, Burden, Jannie du Plessis, Sykes and van den Berg, whilst the Stormers will call on the likes of Brok Harris, Schalk Brits, Ross Skeate and Francois van der Merwe.
Comparing the units that each team employed last year (and considering that the Sharks were infinitely superior in last year’s tussle) we see that the nucleus of the Sharks tight five is the same, with only Beast and Bismarck coming in. Although there are still a few question marks over Beast’s scrumming abilities, I’m sure few would doubt the effectiveness of John Smit’s replacement. Like John, Bismarck is tall for a hooker. I’ve been told that a tall hooker next to a short tighthead (like Botha) often proves a handful for the opposition.
The Stormers have done well to shore up their leaky ship from last year, but if you look closely, you’ll see the same “soft” tight forwards, the Mollers, Skeates, Harrises and Britses, still feature and will likely all be on the field in the second half. The Sharks, in contrast, have established heavies in the likes of Sykes, Lensing and the other du Plessis. All-in-all a pretty simple equation. One good tight five coming up against two.
They say comparisons are odious and in the context of tight-five discussions, it makes little sense to compare direct opponents. To my mind, though, the Sharks unit, man for man, is technically superior in every position to what the Cape side is likely to put out there. Liebenberg is a good hooker, sure, but Bismarck is the Bok incumbent. Mujati is a proper tighthead, but Brok Harris isn’t. The Sharks have BJ Botha and Jannie du Plessis – again, no contest. Bekker is highly-rated as a lineout jumper (hell, he is so tall he doesn’t need to jump) but lacks the hard edge that Johann Muller brings. Fondse is young and promising, but Ackermann has forgotten more about hardness than Fondse has yet learned. Beast and Moller will both struggle in the scrums, given the quality of the tightheads on display. Who does more work around the field, though? And Lensing might not be good for much, but what are the odds that Brok Harris will move him backwards?
The comparison of Burden and Brits is an interesting one. Burden was a centre now playing hooker, whereas Brits was a flank who became a hooker only to play like a centre. Both still struggle with their basics, particularly lineout work. Both are explosive in open play with a good step and blistering pace. Surely a mouth-watering contest, should the two come up against each other. But Rassie wants Brits to be a number 8…
So, in conclusion, take this from whence it comes, but also don’t be too surprised if the REAL team in black wins the battle up front in convincing style on Saturday night. It will be hot in the Tank, all right, so lets see if Rassie’s new-look hardmen can take the heat.Tweet