So what was the real difference on Saturday? Was it the mental growth of the Stormers over the year? Was it the lack of fire in the Bulls’ belly? Was it Habana’s try? Was it Dewalt “dealer of deathblows” Duvenhage?
My thoughts are: none of the above.
Fish emailed me over the weekend talking about a new Bok game-plan that mimics that of the Stormers, with big ball-carrying forwards breaking the gain-line continuously by playing at a frenetic pace.
In this lay the clue to the difference between the 2 games and that was the referee allowed the Stormers to play their game. By penalising the Bulls for their illegal slowing down of the ball at the ruck, the Stormers could play their game. This justifies their whinge at Joubert last year for shouting “hands off Blue!” the whole day, without penalising the Bulls. Stegmann is no Brussow, not being able to tread the fine line between releasing as the tackler and playing for the ball in the ruck. The penalty count against the Bulls was enormous and they need to adjust their gameplan to compete at the breakdown. Their defensive system is such that it remains porous if you play high-paced rugby against them.
The Bulls better go and think of a better defensive plan as it would appear that the refs are onto their gameplan of slowing the ball down allowing their defensive line to reform. If you watch last year’s final, all you see is the ball going across the park without gaining much ground by the Stormers.
If the Boks played a game-plan in NZ later this year based around ball-carrying forwards it could be a cup-winning game-plan. The pick-and-drive and the short-pass taking the place of the forward set-up and spinning the ball wide. The key difference is that in the wet the former will reap more ground than the latter. If you take a ball into contact at high speed, the chances are much higher that you will spill it. If you take a short pass and take the contact in tight the chances are much lower of spilling the ball. Perhaps the right strategy is to play out of your half with kicks and then to play the short-pass game in their half? If the refs penalise the defending team for the offside, not entering through the gate and slowing the ball down, you can reap points and thus grind out wins.
Let’s start adjusting our expectations now of free-flowing and flair rugby winning in NZ. It’s not going to happen and any team that expects to win using these strategies will find themselves crying in press-conferences apologising to their fans (Sir Richard we are looking at you).