Hi guys, the loss of the Stormers to the Sunwolves in Hong Kong was quite a surprise. Some guys tell me they see it coming, but the truth is the Cape is a powerful rugby factory and must not be losing games like this.
As always we ask why it happen. There a few different reasons, but something specific I notice and find interesting is the Stormer approach to defensive rucks. Let us take a look at the build up to the Wolves second try to see what I mean…
Wolves has a scrum at their 10m line. As we see, the scrum wheel in a way that is favourable for the Wolves to play to the openside because the Stormers flankers has been wheeled away toward the blindside. But instead the Wolves will do the unexpected and attack to the less favourable blindside. They do it because they get lightning ball from the scrum, and because the Stormers has clearly set up for a openside defence.
The Wolves makes about 10m before a tackle, but not a single Stormer player will get involve at the breakdown. Have a look. All three loosies is there so why does one of them not play to the ball? The reason is because of the Stormers breakdown policy. The new laws states that a ruck is formed as soon as one other player join (in this case Tokunaga) and then it is hands off to the defence.
The Stormers approach is clearly to respect the new laws, concede this ruck that is forming and rather keep men on their feet.
But in South Africa we know that if you follow the law then you get left behind, and that is exactly what happen to the Stormers. Because the Wolves has such quick ball, they now running at defenders that is still retreating and organising. With less men in the line, the Stormers can not defend wide, so there is space outside for the Wolves. Luckily their flyhalf make a mistake and don’t use that space well.
But the Wolves manage to keep the ball and now we see the Stormers breakdown policy again. A tackle is made but Pieter-Steph does not go into the contest. The Stormers is doing what many teams decided to do when the strict new ruck laws came out – they focus less on the breakdown contest and rather keep men on their feet. But because of this the Wolves will get quick ball again and cause more problems down the left.
For a third time in this sequence the Stormers is passive at a breakdown, even though they have some firepower there. We can see Samuels and Wiese is not engaging. It is important to say at this point that this is not a fault of the players, it is a system they are following. But because of the quick ball again the Wolves will now have time and space to strike down the right hand side.
Above picture is the moment right after that previous ruck, and we can see how the Wolves attack is dictating to the Stormers. They nicely on the front foot running at a defence that have not had the time to organise and therefore can not be aggressive. If you give the opposition quick ball, that usually mean your defence will be passive. The try is coming.
The Stormers pushes across and actually manage to get in a position where they can kill the attack, but unfortunately a bad miss tackle by Senatla will open the door for them and the Wolves will score.
So what is going on?
Like I say earlier, the new laws makes the breakdown unattractive for defending teams, so they will rather keep men on their feet and not contest that much. But in rugby we have to slow the ball SOMEWHERE or the opposing team will run us off our feet.
So if you not going to slow the ball at the breakdown, then you must slow it at the tackle with dominant hits. The Stormers did not often manage to do this, so the Wolves had lovely quick ball and dictate all day.
But there is another very interesting point I want to raise, and that is that refs actually does not seem to be blowing the new ruck laws anyway!
What we are seeing is that refs is actually still giving teams a window to contest. Therefore teams who DOES contest and try to slow the ball, even though the new laws supposingly prohibit it, is having a lot of success and allowing their defence to be more organised and aggressive.
It is frustrating for the Stormers I am sure, especially because they do not have a proper openside flank who can make a nuisance. But they will have to adapt and rethink they way they approach the rucks. The refs is allowing a contest, and they must seriously consider to get more involved here. And hell, it don’t even have to be a steal – just send in some heavy infantry to teach some lessons and slow the ball a bit and you are doing half the job.
DISCLAIMER: English is Oom’s third language, after Rugby and Afrikaans.