Formidable Stormers show unity


Ferocious forward deeds created the “big black blanket” phrase used to describe the All Black pack.

The deeds came from men of the Meads era, like brother Stan, Kel Tremain, Ken Gray, Brian Lochore, Waka Nathan, Bruce McLeod and Wilson Whineray, a group who hunted with collective intent and purpose. Their power was in their unity, their influence based on cohesion, writes Wynne Gray for the NZHerald.

The same could be said of the Stormers, the only unbeaten side in this year’s Super 15 after grinding out their sixth straight win on Saturday.

Their victims have been the Hurricanes, Sharks, Blues, Lions, Bulls and then the Highlanders in Dunedin. Their latest 21-6 victory came after they made the arduous journey from Cape Town to Dunedin and then arm-wrestled their hosts into the stadium dirt.

“We show our commitment to the side through defence and work really hard at it,” captain Jean de Villiers explained.

The Stormers presented an impenetrable white-jerseyed blockade to all the Highlanders’ attacks. They kept a clean sheet in the final minutes when Tamati Ellison’s boot scraped the touchline, but until then their defensive patterns had no gaps.

The Stormers have made a remarkable start to the Super 15, and have done so without Springbok loose forward and captain Schalk Burger since he was dinged early in the series.
Now Duane Vermeulen and Siya Kolisi patrol the fringes, Andries Bekker lords the lineout and, with young locking sidekick Eben Etzebeth, tends to the tight work while combative hooker Tiaan Liebenberg runs his frontrowers.

In the backline, de Villiers controls the tackling tempo, with his outside in, rush defence creating uncertain options as it did for the Highlanders. They were suffocated, and when they tried to use cutout passes they were fortunate to avoid the preying dash of intercept king Bryan Habana. The relentless pressure created a frustrated Highlanders side who eventually seemed to run out of ideas.

The Stormers have the most miserly defence in the competition, conceding just seven tries in their matches this year. They demonstrate a collective will and defensive trust which is a non-negotiable mantra for top coaches and a foundation for all quality sides. Think Graham Henry, Jake White and Clive Woodward in their World Cup successes and consider how White, even in the brief time he has been in charge, is working to recreate that structure with the Brumbies.

The Stormers are setting the standards, though. Allister Coetzee heads the coaching team with Jacques Nienaber as his specialist defensive technician, directing the strategies and mindset of the squad for their weekly combat. Some team will unlock or at least unpick the Stormers’ defensive chokehold. It could be their next opponent, the Crusaders, but they have to gather their battered bodies for the trip home from the Republic while the Stormers take a couple of days off in Queenstown to revive their weary limbs.

The Crusaders will need to show more deception and skill than they did against the Bulls. They still have a fair way to go to deliver on their broad potential.
At the moment, they are getting good value from their scrum and individuals such as Wyatt Crockett, Kieran Read, Andy Ellis and Sean Maitland. The collective grunt is still fractured, though.

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