Gavin Rich - SuperSport.com
Cape Town - The long-term forecast of rain in Durban on Saturday has prompted an open-minded approach to the Stormers' strategy preparation for their Super Rugby derby against the Sharks at Kings Park.
Assistant coach John Dobson hasn't forgotten last year's Currie Cup final, when he was the coach of a Western Province team that went down in a stop start game in sweltering heat at Newlands. There was general acknowledgement in the home camp afterwards that the Sharks had prevailed as much because they managed to slow the game down as they had because of their disruption of the home team's lineout.
With the Sharks still carrying question marks over their staying ability in a fast game due to their tendency to struggle in the second half, something that was much in evidence in an otherwise good win over the Blues at the weekend, it almost goes without saying that the Stormers will be wanting to inject some tempo into the Durban game.
"I'm not so sure the Sharks faded so much in the second half as the Blues came back, there is such quality in the Blues team that you'd expect them to come back into the game," Dobson told SuperSport.com as the Stormers started their preparations for the game.
"Certainly we would like a game with a little bit of tempo. As you know we have tried that in recent games against them, sometimes it has come off and sometimes it hasn't. But we saw the effect the Blues got from that approach."
Dobson believes that the game against the Lions this past weekend might have been better preparation for a high tempo game than the coaches had initially thought in the immediate aftermath of the narrow 19-17 win in a scrappy game.
"After watching the video we believe that there were probably more positives to take from the game than we thought immediately afterwards, and towards the end we were really pushing the tempo. We went from our lineouts taking 35 seconds to the low 20s. Quickening up the game will definitely be something we will aim to do in Durban."
However, the Stormers haven't played an early season game in Durban in a while. It can be a tough place to play because of the humidity, and the sweat that at times turns the ball into a cake of soap induces errors that automatically slow the game down. Besides, while games played in high humidity do sometimes resemble wet weather fixtures, the Stormers are considering the possibility that they may encounter genuine wet weather in the match.
"It looks like there may be a bit of rain around on Saturday. We want to play quickly because we consider ourselves to be well conditioned, but if it rains we do have quite a Springbok laden pack of forwards, which obviously counts for something in wet weather, so we are thinking it works for us both ways," said Dobson.
What Dobson anticipates there won't be for the team this week, and which could also work for them, is the intense pressure that hung over the Stormers in the build-up to the Lions game. While at Newlands the Stormers were driven by desperation and ended up playing like that, he feels that they will be more relaxed this week and look to play more measured, creative and tactical rugby.
"There isn't as much pressure this week, although there is a lot riding on the game. The Bulls are also playing the Lions this week, so if we win in Durban whoever loses the other game could end up being the skunk of the conference with just one win in three games," said Dobson.
"Of course it is very early in the competition, and the Sharks haven't been involved in South African derbies so aren't yet part of it (the measurement between local teams). We consider ourselves to be the underdogs and maybe that does work for us as we have a bit of experience of that."
Dobson smiled when he said the last bit, which was a clear reference to his WP team’s two excellent wins as overwhelming underdogs that won the 2017 Currie Cup - the first in a league game that clinched Province their place in the playoffs, and then in the final a fortnight later.
While Super Rugby clashes have tended to be won by the home team in the last two seasons, that hasn't been the case in the Currie Cup, where it has often been reversed. The bottom line is that Durban is not a place that should scare the Stormers, though Dobson clearly has big respect for the Sharks and admiration for the rugby they are playing at present.
He says that while there are similarities between the two teams, there are also different challenges when it comes to preparing a side to face the Sharks in comparison to the Lions.
"I think the biggest difference is that they are much more of a gainline team than the Lions are. They like playing the offload game and we have lost to them a couple of times now in both Currie Cup and Super Rugby. They are all about front foot offloads, while the Lions prefer pushing it on because they back themselves to steal. As you know they have their five or six ball scavengers.
"So we will be anticipating more of a gainline game from the Sharks. They also have a very good tactical kicking game. Rob (du Preez), Louis Schreuder and Curwin Bosch are all kicking really well.
"But we will be ready for the game. On reflection we felt there were better things to come out of the Lions game than we initially thought. We had good defence and physicality. The circumstances meant there was a lot of pressure last week. It was like we were in a laager trying to fight our way out of a corner. This week is different and we will be relying less on momentum than we did against the Lions."
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