The Stormers need to add some spice to their maul if they want to qualify for this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs, writes JOHN GOLIATH.
Despite the Stormers’ gutsy draw against the Crusaders on Saturday, they still find themselves at the bottom of the South African conference. The Cape side are six points behind the conference-leading Vodacom Bulls and Jaguares, with only four round-robin matches left to play in this year’s competition.
The Stormers face the Highlanders at Newlands on Saturday, before finishing off the campaign against the Lions (away), Sunwolves (home) and Sharks (home). They probably need to win three of those matches to be in contention for a playoff berth, while the odd try-scoring bonus point may also come in handy when the final points are tallied up.
But to win those matches, the Stormers need to score tries and convert their opportunities into points. They have only been able to score three tries or more on four occasions in 12 matches this season, while they are also bottom of the try-scoring charts, with just 23 five-pointers.
The Stormers’ maul is one of their biggest strengths, but they’ve had mixed success with this method of attack.
The Crusaders were successful in stopping it – by hook or by crook – on Saturday, and even turned over a few balls by preventing the Stormers from getting the ball out after the referee’s second call of ‘use it’. The Crusaders first stopped the Stormers’ momentum, before managing to get through the middle and playing the ball.
The Stormers’ maul was pretty one-dimensional, as they would drive off the middle or the front ball. It was easy for the Crusaders to defend, which is probably also one of the reasons why Stormers’ captain Siya Kolisi went for the three points to secure a draw in the dying seconds of the match instead of backing a misfiring maul.
The Stormers scored from one of their lineout variations when the ball was played off the top, allowing flyhalf Josh Stander to put Kolisi in a gap with a superb flat ball across the Crusaders’ defence.
But the Stormers need some variation to their maul itself to try and catch teams off guard, like the Crusaders did with their maul in the first half, when they peeled off the front of the lineout.
These days, teams can easily defend mauls going through the middle, especially if it’s not properly formed. Technique and power is not always enough, especially against New Zealand opposition. Little variations may help, such as shifting the point of contact or throwing the ball to the back beyond the 10m line to try and avoid bashing it up against the big forwards.
With their backline still not firing properly, the Stormers need to find alternative ways to get over the line. The maul is still their go-to play, but they have to change it up a bit to try and catch the opposition off guard.
Photo: EPA/Nic Bothma