Stormers the side to beat
Sport24 columnist Alan Solomons (File)
While Super Rugby has produced a mixed bag, with some of games proving mediocre, I thought the Stormers v Bulls match was the best game of the tournament thus far.
The North/South derby had Test match intensity and terrific tempo and physicality to it.
Some pundits say too many derbies are being played, but the whole purpose of a conference system is to play local derbies.
An alternative to this structure would be to have two pools, with teams changing every year to give the competition variety. You could still have a number of derbies without having the present conference system.
Many of the complaints pertaining to the current structure are from South Africans and New Zealanders who say the local derbies are much tougher physically on their teams than the Australian sides.
While this argument holds water, I do enjoy the derbies as the sides really get up for them. In fairness, I think we should give the conference system a full go until 2015 - when it will be up for review.
The Stormers still top the overall log and I believe they have what it takes to win the title. They are an exceptionally well-balanced side. Their backline is dangerous and their forwards have been stellar.
Young lock, Eben Etzebeth, has been a star performer and I predict he will play for the Springboks this season.
The current Stormers side compared to the one I coached to a semi-final in 1999 are quite similar. We also had a dangerous backline, interspersed with game-breakers and a very mobile pack of forwards.
The Stormers’ defence has again been outstanding this year and is now a hallmark of their game.
A notable trend has developed where teams who make more tackles and have less possession are winning games.
This is also evident in European rugby owing to strong modern-day defensive systems and top-notch player conditioning.
In order to break down dominant defences, attackers have to be inventive. Utilising different strategies such as putting kicks behind and offloading in the tackle is the way to go.
The Highlanders’ attack was blunt and simply couldn’t penetrate the Stormers’ line.
The Crusaders/Stormers match-up will be a cracker of a clash. The Stormers have a slight advantage as they are in the second week of tour and the Crusaders have to travel home from South Africa.
Jetlag and travel fatigue does play a role, but for the most part today’s teams have adapted to travel and to their credit don’t use this as an excuse for poor performance.
The Stormers have built up excellent momentum, but there is a lot of pressure on the Crusaders to win their home games, having dropped quite a few points so far. Thus, I expect the seven-time champions to come out firing and I believe they go in as slight favourites.
I see the Bulls pushing the Stormers very close in the South African conference owing to the rivalry between the sides. However, I think the Stormers are a more accomplished, all-round outfit and I’m tipping them to win this year’s title.
Turning to a side at the opposite end of the table, the Lions have seen confidence seep out of them after five straight defeats. I think their current psychological mindset is affecting their physical performance.
With the Lions, we are also seeing the big difference between the level of Currie Cup and Super Rugby. Without taking anything away from the Currie Cup champions, one must remember that their title was won in a World Cup year.
In terms of the competition globally, I agree that the Australian sides are lagging behind their South African and New Zealander counterparts. The former simply don’t have the player depth that the latter two enjoy and are limited in terms of personnel when injuries arise.Alan Solomons was assistant coach to Nick Mallett when the Springboks went 17 Tests unbeaten. He is currently EP Kings’ Director of Rugby and is a consultant to the IRB.
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