Stormers lack aces in the pack

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Coach Robbie Fleck may just be inclined to read the riot act following one of their worst forward displays this year.

This Stormers eight looked like a million dollars when they first met the Bulls earlier this season, but the young pack from Pretoria returned the favour with interest in a tough, error-strewn Super Rugby derby match.

The big names in the Stormers pack were almost bullied at the collisions, while the Bulls were excellent in disrupting their set piece. The Pretoria side also contested with great efficiency at lineout time, while they earned several scrum penalties.

In a nutshell, it just looked like the Bulls’ pack were hungry to make amends for their own second-rate performance in the tight-loose and the set piece at Newlands in February.

“Credit to the Bulls’ set piece, especially the contesting,” Fleck said after the match.

“They put our lineout under pressure, we obviously couldn't launch from that. Obviously a couple of penalties at scrum time kept them in the game. In a tight game you have to dominate the set piece. For a young pack they did well to match ours.”

Of course, when you don't have a functioning set piece, your attack is going to suffer. The Stormers' halfbacks couldn’t operate with freedom, because they didn’t have enough front-foot ball to work with. And when they did get decent ball, their option-taking was terrible.

Because the Stormers’ strike runners had no momentum, they were gang-tackled by the Bulls, who also fought hard to slow the Cape side’s ball down at the breakdown.

“Credit to the Bulls’ defence... We were attacking pretty well and were able to retain possession and put them under pressure,” Fleck said. “But they work incredibly hard and they did well to slow our ball at ruck time. We weren’t able to get any quick ball or up the tempo for that matter. They brought the tempo down to their pace, which didn’t suit us and it became a set-piece battle.

“We wanted a quick open game. I felt that we scored a really good try and that was the swing for us, and we could have won it from there. But again they fought their way back.”

Damian de Allende, in probably his best outing since returning from injury, scored the Stormers’ only try of the match after a rare phase of play on the Bulls’ line that went wide. But De Allende and his centre partner Johnny Kotze were also guilty of not looking for options on the outside or exploring the wider channels - not a first-time problem.

The problem for the Stormers is that there are still a host of players occupying the flyhalf channel. Yes, the Stormers didn't get quick ball, and they had to consolidate, but then those one-off runners need to get some momentum for the flyhalf to create space for his outside backs. But it also doesn't help if 12 and 13 just look to bash it up.

The Stormers are now level on points with the Bulls in the Africa Conference 1 after going winless in their last three matches. They lie second for the first time this season due to their Pretoria rivals’ superior win record.

But all is not lost for the Stormers, because they have two home matches against the struggling Cheetahs (this Saturday at 3pm) and the Kings to come, while they certainly have some winnable matches on their tour of Australia in July.

Cape Argus

Original source: Stormers lack aces in the pack

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