• Stormers must stop Barrett

    The Stormers will lose to the Hurricanes if they don't win the forward battle and limit the attacking space of flyhalf Beauden Barrett, writes JON CARDINELLI.

    The Stormers were hammered and humbled in their previous game against the Highlanders. The Cape side leaked five tries and lost the game 39-21, but what was most concerning was their lack of intensity at the point of contact.

    They will be boosted this week by the return of their skipper Duane Vermeulen, who was rested last week. Another Springbok in Eben Etzebeth is also set to start, and the duo should lend the Stormers more grunt at the collisions and breakdowns.

    But can they turn things around after such a heavy defeat? And in the space of six days?

    The odds are certainly against them bouncing back. They will be up against the form side of the tournament, the Hurricanes, who currently top the overall log and have won all six of their matches this season.

    What should concern the Stormers is that the Hurricanes have played the most balanced and effective brand of rugby. They are statistically among the best attacking and defending sides in this year's tournament. They have the strength of collective as well as the individual game-breakers to beat any team.

    The Hurricanes will also be boosted this week by the return of several big names. Much has been made about the inclusion of wing Julian Savea, as well as Ma'a Nonu's 150th Vodacom Super Rugby match. But the key to their success will be the performance of the pack, and how Barrett translates that potential dominance into points.

    The Stormers have produced some powerful scrummaging performances in 2015, but have struggled to use that dominance to good effect. Last week, they were outplayed at the collisions and breakdowns. They can't afford to lose in these areas against a team like the Hurricanes. The Canes are hard to stop when they keep the ball through the phases, and even more dangerous when they force a turnover and counter-attack with their backs.

    If the Stormers fail to pressure the Hurricanes pack, and thus the halfbacks TJ Perenara and Barrett, it could be a long evening for the Cape side. They can't afford to let somebody like Barrett control the game. The All Blacks flyhalf is a fine tactical kicker and distributor, and if he uses a good platform to create opportunities, you can bet on the likes of Savea, Conrad Smith, Cory Jane, Nonu, and even the promising youngster Nehe Milner-Skudder finishing in style.

    This is an important clash in the context of the Stormers' season. They lost in Dunedin last week, and can't afford to lose in Wellington on Friday. If they do, heads may start to drop and they will struggle on the Australian leg of their tour.

    HEAD TO HEAD
    Overall: Hurricanes 6, Stormers 11
    In New Zealand: Hurricanes 3, Stormers 4

    STATS AND FACTS
    – The Hurricanes have lost their last four matches against the Stormers.
    – The Stormers have never beaten the Hurricanes five times in a row.
    – The last two clashes between the two sides have witnessed fewer than 40 points in total, and have been settled by one and two points respectively.
    – Another win will take the Hurricanes' winning streak to seven. They achieved this once before in 2003.
    – The Stormers have lost their last four matches in New Zealand. They have never lost five consecutive games in New Zealand before.
    – The Hurricanes have the best tackling success rate (90%) this season, while the Stormers have the second-worst (84%).

    Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
    Hurricanes Beauden Barrett (57) Julian Savea, TJ Perenara (4) Julian Savea (415) Brad Shields (73)
    Stormers Demetri Catrakilis (61) Dillyn Leyds, Juan de Jongh (2) Cheslin Kolbe (397) Nizaam Carr (44)

    Hurricanes – 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Motu Matu'u, 1 Reggie Goodes.
    Subs: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Ben May, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Adam Hill, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 James Marshall.

    Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
    Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Michael Rhodes, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Huw Jones.

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    Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images

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    Jon Cardinelli