Rugby

Stormers who aren’t afraid to take risks are emerging from the shadows.

While there are some Antipodean players and coaches in the URC, the off-load game, which the Kiwis excel at, has not been exposed to them as much as it has been to the South African sides.

One relic of the Super Rugby era that might benefit South African clubs in their desire to be competitive in the Vodacom United Rugby Championship is the Lukhanyo Am back-handed ball that led to the opening Springbok try against the All Blacks on the Gold Coast last week.

While the European teams that the DHL Stormers are facing on their current four-match tour are well-coached and drilled, resulting in a discipline and patience to their game that makes them difficult to beat, there are aspects of the southern hemisphere game that are still foreign to them, according to DHL Stormers skills coach Labeeb Levy.

While there are some Antipodean players and coaches in the URC, the off-load game, which the Kiwis excel at, has not been exposed to them as much as it has been to the South African sides. The All Blacks were defeated in the final Rugby Championship match by conventional South African physicality mixed with beautiful subtle touches, such as the aforementioned bit of Am magic, and the World Cup final in 2019 featured the same mix.

The Stormers want to go beyond that and play what Levy referred to as “the Cape Town style” in an online press conference, which some will associate with the so-called “golden era” of Western Province dominance in the Currie Cup in the 1980s, while others will associate with the type of rugby played in the Cape communities prior to unification.

A METHOD OF SURPRISING FOREIGN TEAMS

While the Stormers believe they have learned a lot about the European game in their two games so far, they also believe there is a possibility to surprise the international clubs. Playing an innovative style with a strong emphasis on off-loads could be the answer.

The way some of the Stormers’ front-row forwards offloaded in the buildup to one of the Stormers’ tries in their dominant first half against Munster at Thomond Park at the weekend proved to Levy that what they’re working on is the right path.

“The overseas teams are more polished than we are, and that will be a learning experience for us, but if you compare what we are facing now to what we were used to playing against when we played New Zealand sides, it is not as showy, there aren’t as many offloads, and so on,” Levy explained.

“The teams we play are well-drilled and depend heavily on mauling and kicking into the 22. Their maul systems are really good, and we’ll have to get used to them soon if we want to compete. However, despite the fact that European teams are quite good at what they do, they are not unduly exposed to the (offload) style. It’s something we should definitely look into to see how we can make it work for us. We lost to Munster, but we learned a lot from the game. We were much more content with our playing approach.

“There are some things we need to work on, such as giving up penalties in different places of the field, notably in the middle. When we get into our own 22, we want to concentrate on some defensive things as well. There, we give away attempts far too readily.

“However, in terms of what we can do to affect the opposition, we’re looking at technical matters like eye contact and handshakes, which are two critical technical aspects of the unload. There are also parts of decision-making where we need to mature. It’s not only about feeling well or looking nice; it’s about knowing when to let go of the ball.”

EUROPEANS ARE WELL-TRAINED, BUT NOT NATURAL.

The European passing game, according to Levy, is well-coached and the result of intensive training, whereas the South African playing style is more natural. That enhanced naturalness could prove to be a South African strength if it can be refined by paying attention to it.

The Stormers have been flying under the radar recently, probably due to a focus on spreading depth and experimentation while playing as WP in the Currie Cup, which had an impact on outcomes. Province made the Currie Cup play-offs by a hair’s breadth.

The Stormers, on the other hand, played some exciting rugby in the Rainbow Cup, and after losing to the Sharks and the Bulls early on, they surged back with a string of victories. That includes a strong win in Durban, when X-factor played a huge role in swinging the game in the Cape team’s favor, despite the fact that they barely had any ball and still managed to take the Bulls to the final move of the game before losing at Loftus.

The Stormers finished second in the South African part of the Rainbow Cup, behind the Bulls, thanks to their creative rugby, and the first half against Munster, arguably the best half a local franchise has produced outside of the Lions’ win over Zebre, showed hints of them progressing further.

If they can continue what they did for 40 minutes against Munster to closer to 80 minutes, they might be on their way out of the shadows in no time.

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