Sharks & Stormers: Two teams, same goal
Durban - If you are heading to Kings Park at the weekend for Saturday’s coastal derby between the Sharks and the Stormers make sure you are in your seats when the game starts for both teams are targeting a fast start.
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It’s easy to understand why that is. In the away derby matches that the Stormers have lost against the Bulls and the Lions it went pear-shaped for them early. They were behind 12-0 against the Bulls within the first few minutes, and they were 19-0 down against the Lions. The Sharks have tended to win the games they have started well but lost the ones where they made a limp start, such as when they went down 14-3 in just nine minutes against the Bulls.
Of course, targeting a fast start is easier said than done, particularly when the opposition are looking at doing the same thing. The Bulls have earned themselves a reputation for being fast starters this season, and both the Stormers’ Robbie Fleck and the Sharks’ Robert du Preez spoke about the need to combat that before their teams faced the men from Pretoria.
They didn’t succeed, and Stormers assistant coach Paul Feeney told SuperSport.com that he is well aware of the dangers of putting too many eggs into one basket and focussing too much on a fast start by making it your be all and end all.
“It is important to make a good start in every game and we have suffered for making slow starts to our last two games, but you can’t say ‘hey we have to make a good start and that is a non-negotiable’ for then what happens if you do fall behind early and have to resort to plan B,” said Feeney.
“You have to be ready to combat the scenario that you face when the opposition starts well. When you do fall behind early then it is up to the leaders on the field to get the team to regroup and talk about what has to be done to get the team back in the game.”
The Stormers managed to rectify the situation to some extent against the Bulls and fought back to just a solitary point deficit at halftime at Loftus, only to lose it in the second half when key forward Pieter-Steph du Toit was yellow carded. Against the Lions the Stormers on a few occasions looked like they were fighting back only to then waste the effort by conceding a soft try.
That is the problem with chasing a game, you end up making the mistakes that the opposition can feast on. Ask Sharks flank Philip van der Walt, who reckons that the early tries conceded against the Bulls left his team in a hole that they were unable to extricate themselves from at Kings Park last week.
“In this competition you can’t have soft moments and the Bulls were really up for the game and their good start made it really difficult for us,” said the Sharks loose-forward.
“Last week was very disappointing. We have had good discussions about where it went wrong. We know that in the games that we have played well in we were the ones who were initiating and attacking early. We went in with the same mindset against the Bulls, but they had the same intent as we did and they just executed better than us in the first 20 minutes.
“In every game you play you aspire to play the same level as we did against the Blues and the Hurricanes, but the first 20 minutes against the Bulls just didn’t turn out that way. Against the Blues and the Hurricanes we got early momentum and then we rode that momentum, and we tried to do the same against the Bulls but we just couldn’t get it together.
“After that poor start we did start to crawl back, and for a long period no points were scored. But we were chasing the game and we made mistakes and that is why the Bulls scored those two tries at the end.”
Van der Walt said that his team will be targeting a fast start at the weekend and knows the Stormers will be doing the same.
“It is interesting how similar their situation is to ours, but every team wants to approach it the same way. The Bulls got it right against us and we want to do the same against the Stormers. We need to prepare well and have some tricks up our sleeve that will hopefully give us that early momentum.”
History, and the respective strengths of the teams, suggests that a fast start might be more imperative for the Sharks than the Stormers. The Stormers showed their ability to come back against the Sharks on two occasions when they were playing as Western Province in the Currie Cup. They conceded early points in both the final league game and in the domestic decider and were well behind heading towards the halfway mark only to come back strongly and win the game convincingly in the second half.
In both those games the eventual turn-around wasn’t so surprising though as the Cape pack had taken control of the forward battle relatively early. The slow poison of the scrum and the forward driving eventually took its toll on the Sharks, and the Stormers will be basing a lot around forward dominance at Kings Park.
The Sharks don’t have a good record when it comes to winning with parity in the possession stakes and they rely a lot on the abrasiveness of their pack and the gainline momentum given to them by inside centre Andre Esterhuizen so if the Stormers go ahead early and have the forward advantage, it will be match over. However, if the Sharks make a fast start on the scoreboard but are being pummelled at forward it will still be game on, as it was last October.
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