The Stormers can’t afford to fade in the second stanza against a Crusaders side that specialises in late surges, writes JON CARDINELLI.
Last year, there was a lot of trepidation ahead of the Test between the All Blacks and Springboks in Wellington. Former national coach Nick Mallett summed up the state of South African rugby when he said that the Boks might view a 10-point loss in New Zealand as a moral victory.
The buildup to the Stormers-Crusaders fixture at Newlands has been much the same. The Stormers have been the worst South African side on show from an attacking point of view, and are currently ranked last in the South African conference.
The Crusaders are at the other end of the spectrum. Ranked at the top of the overall log – and at the top of most attacking categories – they will travel to Newlands as overwhelming favourites. They’ve had time to adjust to the South African conditions, scoring an emphatic 45-13 win against the Vodacom Bulls at Lotfus Versfeld last Saturday.
Some – including head coach Robbie Fleck – will be hoping for a repeat of the Wellington miracle. The Boks produced a heroic performance on attack and defence to hand the All Blacks just their second Test defeat on New Zealand soil since 2009.
At this point, however, the question is not if the Stormers will lose to the Crusaders. The question is by how much.
The Crusaders boast an excellent set piece. Their attack is first-class, but not enough credit is given to their defence and kicking game. Indeed, offensive defence, as well as the ability to kick into space has resulted in many a try for the Cantabrians this season.
Overall, they’ve operated at another level of fitness and intensity. The Bulls failed to live with the Crusaders last week, conceding 26 points in the first half. Handré Pollard’s men conceded a further 19 in the second stanza.
The Crusaders have the ability to move up a gear in the third and fourth quarter of a contest. They blew most teams off the park in 2017 and 2018.
They started the 2019 season slowly. While they won their first four matches, they were outscored by the opposition in the second stanza in each of those fixtures.
POINTS SCORED/CONCEDED PER HALF
Since the loss to the Waratahs, however, normal service has resumed. The Crusaders have piled on the points after the break to take the game away from most opponents.
They outscored the Brumbies and Highlanders 36-7 in the second half of those contests. It’s significant to note that they beat the Hurricanes – who’ve accumulated the second-most log points thus far – by 15-0 during the second period of the clash in Wellington.
One has to bear in mind that the earlier fixture between the Highlanders and Crusaders in Dunedin was cancelled due to the attacks in Christchurch. The Crusaders boast the best attacking stats in the tournament and ultimately the most wins and log points, even though they have played one game fewer than some opponents.
They’ve racked up 55 tries in 11 completed games. It’s interesting to note that 31 of those tries have been scored in the second half.
TRIES SCORED/CONCEDED PER HALF
The Chiefs (24) have scored the second-most tries during this period. The Stormers, one of the least potent teams in the 2019 tournament, are way down the list with 14 tries during this period.
To put things into perspective, the Crusaders have averaged nearly 19 points and three tries in the second half of the contest this season. The Stormers have averaged 20 points and two tries per game.
The Stormers will be mindful of what the Crusaders did to the Bulls at Loftus. They should be aiming for a big first-half showing at Newlands, as well as a substantial lead at the break. The Cape side has held a half-time lead five times this season, and has gone on to win on four of those occasions.
A New Zealand side demands more of a team over the course of 80 minutes, though. The Stormers relinquished their 21-15 half-time lead against the Hurricanes to lose 34-28 in Wellington earlier this season.
The Stormers have failed to outscore their opponents in the second half in eight out of 11 matches this season. This record doesn’t bode well for a meeting with the prolific Crusaders.
The Stormers should be up for this clash. Earlier this week, the coaches and players spoke about embracing the challenge. They might see this game as an opportunity to make a statement.
Needless to say, the Stormers will have to produce their best performance of the season to keep the Crusaders honest across the 80 minutes. A standard performance – which has proved inadequate against other battlers such as the Bulls, Reds, Brumbies, and Jaguares this season – will see the Stormers suffering a heavy and humiliating defeat.
Photo: Martin Hunt/AFP