/ 17 May 2008

Stormers plan to hit Lions where it hurts most

The Stormers are planning to hit the Lions’ defence hard where it is likely to hurt most in Saturday’s Super 14 clash at Ellis Park.

The fragile Lions’ defence have leaked 41 tries this season, and after 12 matches they have conceded a staggering 345 points. Simple mathematics suggests that the Lions conceded an average of close on 29 points per game.

In stark contrast, the Stormers, have only given away 19 tries in the same period, and conceded 198 points.

Those statistics would have been noted by wily Stormers’ coach Rassie Erasmus and could form the basics of his game plan against the Lions.

Erasmus shed some light on his intentions when he said: ”A certain team’s strengths can complement another team’s weaknesses.”

In the past few weeks, Erasmus has been at pains to press home the fact that the Stormers have always focused on winning, rather than setting out to score four tries in order to win a bonus point.

The Stormers’ record will show that in their recent unbeaten six-match streak they last picked up bonus points in March (against Western Force) and mid-April (against Cheetahs).

But Saturday could be different since Erasmus established that the Lions’ leaky defence regularly concedes on average just more than three tries per match and try-scoring will be an attractive option in the plotting of a win.

He has also made it clear this week that his orders will be to finish the game as a contest as soon as possible and then run up the score to boost the points-difference column on the final log.

However, that is easier said than done because, although the Stormers usually strike their match-winning blows in the first half, they have never been able to maintain that scoring momentum in the second half this season.

It will require a change of mindset from the Stormers to stay in attacking mode instead of the defensive mode that has seen the side successfully thwart second-half comeback attempts by opposition sides.

Erasmus hasn’t taken too kindly to comments that his side have taken the foot off the pedal in the second half. On Saturday, he can put that theory to bed if his charges can match their stout defence with an explosive attack later in the match and condemn the Lions as the Super 14 wooden-spoonists for the second year running.

Stormers captain Jean de Villiers said there is a real determination in the team to hit the Lions hard on Saturday.

”There is such a will in this team to really perform and to do well,” he said. ”We realise we have the opportunity now to get into a semifinal and you don’t get such opportunities often, so we have to use it and play good rugby on Saturday.

”We really worked hard to get here. If you look how we’ve been struggling over the last couple of years, to be in this position now is fantastic for us. We have a quality team. It won’t be easy this weekend but we believe we can do it.

”We believe if we stick to our structures and do what we’ve been doing all year, the four tries and bonus point will take care of themselves.”

There will be great focus on De Villiers’s midfield match-up against the Lions’ World Cup centre Jaque Fourie, who made a spectacular return to rugby last week after an injury lay-off.

De Villiers and Fourie have played as a centre pairing in 14 Tests for the Springboks but on Saturday the rivalry will be huge as the Stormers’ skipper will want to lead from the front by neutralising the Fourie midfield menace.

And Erasmus has warned his charges against the Fourie threat, which was prevalent when the Lions scored an unlikely win over the Chiefs last week. ”You can see the aura that a senior player such as Fourie can bring to the team,” he said. — Sapa