Last year the Stormers came to the end of the Super 14 road when they played the Lions at Ellis Park in the last game of the competition, with their failure to secure a bonus point leaving them short of semi-final qualification.
As it turns out, it could also be against the Lions that the end of the track will be reached for the Stormers in this year’s competition – only it will be much earlier. For defeat against the Lions at Newlands this coming Saturday, the fifth match of the season, would surely leave the Stormers with too much to do if they hope to still qualify for the semi-finals.
Gavin Rich writes in the Cape Argus that the Cape team were unfortunate to lose 14-10 against the Bulls at Loftus at the weekend, with eight of the Bulls’ 14 points coming during the 10 minutes that Schalk Brits was in the sin-bin for an offence which may have been worthy of a penalty but not a yellow card.
Up until that point the Stormers were comprehensively winning the kicking game, which effectively meant that the Bulls were being beaten at their own game.
The Stormers tactics ensured that instead of getting early momentum, like they normally do against the Stormers, the Bulls were kept in their own half and kept in first gear.
By keeping the game in a holding pattern, which is effectively what they were doing, the altitude factor was negated in the second half – and this explains why for the first time this season the Stormers were the stronger team after half-time.
Against the Sharks, Blues and Reds the Stormers wilted in the last quarter, in those first two games chiefly because they had used up too much energy earlier in the match attacking from positions where it was not on to do so.
Some Bulls players and some members of their coaching staff have admitted in conversation subsequent to Saturday’s game that the Stormers approach frustrated them and that they were a concerned team when it was working for the Stormers.
That the kicking game had to be abandoned a little earlier than planned was down to the points scored by the Bulls while Brits was off, otherwise the Stormers could well have broken their drought at Loftus.
As it was, the Stormers came a great deal closer to beating the Bulls, and finished a lot stronger, than they have at that venue since 2003.
The bottom line though is that they didn’t win, and after four matches they have three defeats on their record.
Those who apply the “glass is half full” attitude to life will point out this is exactly where they were this time last year.
On the corresponding weekend in 2008, they had just scored their first win of the season, against the Reds in Brisbane.
But it was acknowledged by the Stormers management some time ago that two wins from the five games before they leave for tour would have to be the bare minimum requirement if they are to be still in contention. So a win against the Lions, which would lift them into the middle section of the log, is a bare minimum requirement.
What they really need is what they failed to get from their last two matches against the Lions, in the Super 14 and the Currie Cup – a full house of five log points by scoring four tries.
That is not beyond the realms of possibility if the Stormers retain their momentum in the aspects of the game where they were good at Loftus – the lineouts, the rucks and mauls, the scrums.
The kicking game, or the extent to which it was employed, was specific to the opponents at Loftus, so Peter Grant will probably return at flyhalf, but elements of what worked from the kicking game in the first half should also be retained.
This year’s Super 14 has provided overwhelming evidence that the best way to overcome organised defensive systems is to attack from territory.
Luke Watson’s excellent form, and he really was a thorn in the side of the Bulls at Loftus, should be a source of great hope for the Stormers management looking forward – but it should also give them something to think about.
With Watson now contributing so well to the Stormers at ruck-time, is it not time to consider moving him to openside flank, and shifting Schalk Burger to No 8, where he has periodically shown signs of great promise when he has played there, such as in a Barbarians game against Australia last year?Tweet