Super Rugby

Etzebeth: Stormers have looked at 2018 Christchurch game

Eben Etzebeth (Getty)
Eben Etzebeth (Getty)

Cape Town - If you consider that the final scoreline was 45-28 to the Crusaders you'd think there was very little the Stormers could take from their visit to Christchurch last March, but then the devil is often in the detail, reports.

Those who have memories that extend far enough back, and who had the patience to sit through the second half which started with the Stormers well beaten, might recall that the Stormers produced about half an hour of rugby in that game that was as testing as anything the Crusaders faced all year.

The half-time score was 31-7. In fact it was 26-0 ten minutes from the break. The Stormers had a leaky defence in those days, something which has definitely changed since a new defence coach, Norman Laker, joined the management.

That might be a source of encouragement to the Stormers as they face up to their first Newlands game against the Crusaders since 2013, but it isn't the main point they should be focusing on. Instead it was the inroads they made through their forwards - the props scored three tries between them in the game - in the half hour after half-time. It was a period where they turned what had looked like certain defeat into what at one stage looked like it could be a freakish comeback. At one stage a minimum of a losing bonus point looked possible.

It never worked out like that, and in reality never was going to, mainly because the Crusaders always finish strongly. And pounce on mistakes. The Stormers made a few of those right at the death, and the Crusaders scored tries in the last minutes that stretched them to a 17 point advantage.

But the Stormers did out-score the Crusaders 21-14 in the second half, and in one 25 minute period they scored 21 points against 7. Clutching at straws? Maybe, and it is probably true that the Crusaders relaxed with their big lead. That doesn't change the fact though that the Crusaders captain on the day Sam Whitelock seemed a mighty relieved man at the end and he paid a lot of respect to his opponents in the post-match interview.

And for good reason, for even towards the end of the first half the Stormers had started their comeback, and after leaking four tries early on they stabilised well. The last 50 minutes was a strong performance if you looked at it in isolation, and according to lock Eben Etzebeth, the team has looked at it and taken note of the inroads that were made by the direct approach adopted, with the forwards getting a lot of go-forward by driving around the fringes.

"It is definitely something we are looking at and we will discuss," said the Springbok lock, who didn't face the Crusaders last year due to the injury that kept him out of the entire Super Rugby competition.

"You do have to look at past games at what you might have done wrong, and look for areas where maybe we got it right, and we have done that. We were much better in that second half. We played much better."

The fact Etzebeth wasn't there and is now, that the game is being played at Newlands and not in Christchurch, and that they now have a decent defence coach, are all positives and reasons to think that the 17 point difference last time might be eaten into. Etzebeth though warned that as much as the Stormers might draw confidence from the second half in Christchurch, so it might put the Crusaders on alert.

Scott Robertson is a clever coach and if the Crusaders really were as hurt by the Stormers' second half performance as Whitelock hinted they were afterwards, it is something they would have been working on ahead of this game.

Another thing that should help the Stormers now is their greater familiarity with the press defensive system that effectively took them out of their comfort zone and condemned them to a humiliating defeat the year before last, 2017, when the Crusaders won 57-24. That was a day where you wondered how the Stormers got 24.

"That kind of defence is something that you have to adapt to and you face it more often now so hopefully we are more used to it," said Etzebeth.

"But at the same time you can't go on to the field expecting them to throw exactly the same thing at you that they did last time. You never know, they may change their tactics now. Because they may figure we have become more used to the rush defence."

Whatever the case, Etzebeth says he is looking forward to the challenge of facing the competition's best team.

"A Crusaders match at Newlands is always a big one and a special one, but for more than just that it is the Crusaders. It’s also because they are by far the best team in the competition and you want to test yourself against the best," he said.

"It's these big games you really want to play. The Test matches against the All Blacks or Australia, or a Super Rugby game against the Crusaders or the Bulls. Big teams that you know you have to get yourself up for.

"They struggled against the Sharks and were good against the Bulls, but it is the season as a whole that you have to look at. We know which Crusaders team we will be facing. It will definitely be the biggest challenge of the Super Rugby season and they will be our toughest opponents. And a game that all the boys know they have to be up for.

"They are the defending champions so if we win this game we know that is one box ticked. Beating the best team gives you the confidence of knowing that you can beat anyone."

The Stormers play another four games after this so it is not yet make or break time for them, they can still afford to lose and be in the running for conference honours because of the tight nature of the log this year. But even if there isn't yet reason to regard each game as a knock-out fixture, Etzebeth reckons it would be a good idea to do so.

"We should probably go into that (knock-out) mode now and aim to win all our remaining games as things in our conference are so tight," said Etzebeth. "We have two more teams left to play in our conference and it is probably going to come down to our last game (against the Sharks). Every game counts a lot now so we need to pick up victories."

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