Rugby | Stormers brace for try-happy Brumbies

Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

Cape Town – Early doubts are beginning to surface all over
again in 2016 about the ability of the Stormers to construct tries … which will
only give their supporters that bit more trepidation about the Super Rugby visit
of the contrastingly prolific Brumbies to Newlands this weekend.

The side from the Australian Capital Territory are
experiencing no such difficulty crossing the whitewash, having already notched
a handsome 15 tries from their three unbeaten matches – easy mathematics of
five a game.

It is not as though they have played rank minnows thus far,
either: the Brumbies ran in seven tries against last season’s runaway
ordinary-season standouts and eventual losing finalists the Hurricanes (52-10
outcome), four against nearby Aussie arch-rivals and 2014 champions the
Waratahs (32-15) and a further four in the latest round away to the Western
Force (31-14).

So it is a chalk-and-cheese situation when you weigh them up
in that department against the Stormers, still nursing the wounds – perhaps
more psychological than anything else – from their home 18-13 derby defeat to
the Sharks.

Despite often clear-cut territorial and possession-based
dominance on Saturday, the home side managed just one try and that kept the
Sharks constantly interested in pulling off a mild upset – eventually secured
near the finish when Joe Pietersen added the finishing touches to namesake JP
Pietersen’s knife-like break through the normally resilient Stormers defence.

The Stormers sometimes made going sideways seem like a
dubious intended art form, their quest for any better “go-forward” or breaching
of the advantage line hardly helped by ponderous, lobbed passing and too often
the presence of lumbering forwards as first or second receivers.

After three fixtures each, the Capetonians already lag well
behind the Brumbies in the try column, averaging precisely two a match with six
in total.

Ironically, the Stormers will know that in their next
opponents they face a side with known cleverness and accuracy to their kicking
game, yet also with a more multi-dimensional, incisive hand-to-hand approach at
opportune moments to make them anything but a dour outfit.

It may be very early days in the much-reshaped competition
this year but already only six sides, out of the full 18 taking part, trail the
supposedly heavyweight Stormers for tries.

Fans would be entitled, frankly, to fear that the class of
2016 might be headed the way of Allister Coetzee-era Stormers teams of recent
years: often pretty competitive overall while relying far more on Jacques
Nienaber-engineered staunch defence than attacking gusto for progress, and
never going all the way to the title.

Last year after ordinary season, for example, the Stormers
saw only two sides (Rebels, Blues) post fewer tries of the then 15
participants, in 2014 there were only three inferior teams for “tries for”,
whilst in 2013 it was two.

The strange “cherry on top” for the Stormers’ try-shy
culture came in 2012, when they topped the overall table after ordinary season
despite actually scoring fewer tries than any other team competition-wide – a
rather dismal 28 from 16 fixtures (1.75 a match).

Nor is as though, this Saturday, the hosts will be able to
rely on any kind of Newlands aura, something that can be daunting to many other
outfits, against the Brumbies.

Stephen Moore and company will still have fairly vividly
stamped in their minds memories of the 39-19 “quarter-final” grilling of the
Stormers at that very venue last year, wing Joe Tomane’s hat-trick within 25
minutes tearing the heart out of the Stormers as the try count eventually ballooned
to 6-1.

The present Stormers side is disadvantaged by the sidelining
for several weeks of their first-choice flyhalf Robert du Preez, although it is
a sobering thought that when the home side capitulated to the Brumbies last
season, it occurred even with inside centre kingpin Damian de Allende at his
station – and the powerful Springbok remains firmly absent during his gradual
injury rehabilitation this time around.

It is clear that they are struggling to bring the
game-breaking potential of their speedy back three (Cheslin Kolbe, Dillyn Leyds
and rookie Leolin Zas) into the picture, and with this relatively lightweight
trio confined largely to defensive chores – which they generally do bravely –
they are vulnerable to being too easily bundled into touch when in possession
under pressure.

Kolbe, with his incredible swerving and jinking skills and
pace when he bursts through a hole, should probably be encouraged more,
frankly, to risk running the ball out of his own quarter when there is a bit of
space ahead, rather than kicking routinely for touch or back into the
opponents’ hands.

Yes, there are some obvious hazards attached to that
approach, but you just sense that years of instinctive conservatism continue to
bedevil the Stormers’ stated wish under the fledgling tenure of Robbie Fleck to
produce a brighter, less predictable brand of play.

A danger does exist that the Brumbies painfully remind them
of that lingering hallmark for a second time in as many Newlands meetings.

The Stormers could be said to be trapped between a rock and
a hard place as they prepare for the ambitious Brumbies’ visit: mindful of the
increasing pressure to install some pronounced wow factor to their own
approach, while wary of the visitors’ current ability to crack open defences almost
ad nauseam …

*Follow our chief
writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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