“The breakdown is a fundamental part of the game,” said Robbie Fleck. The Stormers coach has arguably the best front-row stocks in Super Rugby and his backline features some of the most opportunistic counter-attacking weapons in the game.
But, while a strong set piece and the ability to convert turnovers into tries are attributes common to most successful teams, both depend on breakdown efficiency, on attack and defence, for maximum impact.
“The breakdown is an area that we have struggled with in the past,” Fleck said. “If you can remember when we lost to the Brumbies in the quarter-final last year, they absolutely hammered us at the breakdown.”
The Brumbies ran in six tries at Newlands for a 39-19 win. A pair of 100kg Wallaby wings, Joe Tomane and Henry Speight pulverised Super Rugby’s smallest backline, with Tomane finishing with a hat-trick.
While Fleck is aware that the backs were at times overpowered in contact he believes that, in the absence of supersized personnel, much of the problem can be addressed by streamlining the Stormers’ approach to the breakdown.
“It’s something that we’ve worked incredibly hard on,” he said. “We’ve brought in (WP Currie Cup coach) John Dobson to work on our breakdown and our big philosophy is that we want good, quick, clean ball with effective numbers.”
That philosophy is strictly adhered to by the Blitzbokke who, like the Stormers backs, are often dwarfed by the men they are required to wrestle at the point of contact.
Heading into the fourth leg of World Rugby’s Sevens Series, South Africa currently lead the standings. Stormers dynamos Cheslin Kolbe and Juan de Jongh have played a big part of the team’s success, despite playing against physically superior rivals, such as Fiji.
Seabelo Senatla made his Currie Cup debut for Western Province in 2014, and what stood out, apart from his blazing speed, was Senatla’s ability to punch above his weight (75kg) when it came to making tackles.
Fleck has worked to up-skill the Stormers with this efficiency, using the off-season to improve ball-carrying technique and simplify the number of decisions his players will have to make as they arrive at the breakdown.
The goal is to occupy more defenders with fewer cleaners on attack, and vice versa in defence.
“We want to land up with numbers on the opposition, so we need to effectively clean the opposition to have numbers on them,” said the Stormers coach. “I was really pleased with our breakdown after the Eagles game.”
The Stormers ran in six tries to beat the SWD Eagles 40-15 in Saturday’s warm-up match and Fleck was satisfied with the progress shown in that department.
“The Eagles had a go at us at the breakdown and I’m very pleased that they did because it meant that we had to be effective.
“We had 68 rucks in the game and we only lost four, so that’s around 90-percent success rate at the breakdown. If you look at the teams that were successful at the World Cup, they ran at about 95-percent success rate.”
Argentina stumbled at the World Cup’s penultimate hurdle and the core of that team will arrive at Newlands on February 13, in the Jaguares team, hungry to test the Stormers’ readiness at the breakdown.
Original source: Stormers to target breakdowns