Will the Stormers wilt?
After the highly anticipated clash between the Stormers and the Crusaders, some rugby reporters felt that the Stormers were the dominant team for most of the game and that based on that “dominance” they should have won this very important Vodacom Super Rugby match.
The match was on the one hand billed as the clash between the two centre pairings; the highly experienced Springbok duo of Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie and the in-form Crusaders pairing of Sonny Bill Williams and Robbie Fruean. It was also billed as a ‘must-win’ for the Stormers ahead of their four-week tour to Australasia.
Let’s first discuss the view that the Stormers “dominated” the Crusaders for most of the game.
My personal assessment of this was that in certain departments of the game there were indeed periods when the Stormers took the initiative and managed to direct the flow of the game through a combination of good phase-play and rock-steady defence.
However, at the same time, the Crusaders displayed outstanding discipline in defence and despite being on the short-end of most of the statistics, remained patient in attack until they were able to break down the Stormers’ defences at crucial stages of the match.
The Crusaders were better off in the scrums and certainly in the midfield Williams lived up to his reputation as the latest superstar to don the All Black jersey.
So while some felt that the Stormers were dominant, they were equally dominated in what now seems to be the more telling aspects of the game, hence the final score in favour of the Crusaders.
The outcome at Newlands has also once again exposed the inability of our teams and players to adapt to the changing dynamics during a match when their pre-planned game strategy is rendered ineffective by the opposition.
The Stormers just stuck to their physical in-your-face confrontational approach that worked so well for them against the Bulls and Sharks. They kept at it for the remainder of the game despite their inability to break down the Crusaders’ defenses in the second half.
Apart from offering your typical New Zealand hard-knuckle forward play the South Islanders have over the years build up a reputation of having a special nous for the technical and skill sides of the game. This was clearly evident on Saturday when they used all of those abilities to beat the Stormers, South Africa’s best Super Rugby side.
So while Stormers fans might think that their team lost a match they should have won, the Crusaders will celebrate a critical win and this without their stalwarts, Richie McCaw and Dan Carter!
Finally, the match also exposed the vulnerability of De Villiers in midfield: on two occasions the forceful Williams literally ran over him and if it wasn’t for poor handling from Fruean things might have looked much worse for the Stormers.
Add to that the strong scrumming by the Crusaders tight five and all of a sudden the Stormers’ performance was not as “dominant” as it seemed to be for some.
Over the next two weeks the Stormers play two New Zealand teams in New Zealand, a daunting task indeed. Both the Chiefs and Blues have very tough forward packs and more than capable backs – tough teams to bounce back against. Both games that the Stormers have lost this season (against the Reds and Crusaders) saw their confrontational forward play matched by equally tough opposition. They can expect the same from the Chiefs and Blues.
These will be the defining two weeks for the Stormers’ Super Rugby season. Will they blossom or will they wilt?
Gary Boshoff is a former SARU player and current Afrikaans rugby commentator on SuperSport.
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