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Stormers to suffer Brumbies' fate?

Everybody knows that defence wins World Cups, just ask Jake White or Allister Coetzee, but does it win Super Rugby titles?

Both White and Coetzee have impressed this season by moulding consistent outfits under difficult circumstances, but there are still doubts over whether the defence-oriented approach that they favour can withstand the heat of knock-out rugby.

White took a low-profile squad of Brumbies and quickly turned them into a hard-working team that played an uncompromising brand of rugby.

That hard edge sent them to the top of the Australian conference before they stumbled against the Blues last week to come up agonisingly short of making the play-offs.

Nobody gave the Canberra side a chance of competing with the top sides this year, but their tough tackling, abrasive forward pack and accurate kicking game put them in prime position to reach the knock-out phase, until they were derailed at the last moment.

All the Brumbies needed to do to secure top spot in Australia was earn a solitary log point against a Blues team that was fighting to avoid the wooden spoon, but they battled to keep up with the free-running visitors who attacked them from the word go.

There has to be some sort of lesson for Coetzee in the heartbreak of his former Springbok World Cup-winning ally.

The Stormers have had a remarkable season, despite a ridiculously long injury list and the fact that they have scored fewer tries than any other team, they finished the regular season on top of the standings with only two losses against their name.

Coetzee must be praised for the environment that has been created within the squad, that has seen them continue to produce results consistently without the luxury of continuity.

The Stormers' systems are so well-defined that inexperienced players have been able to slot in without disrupting the team ethic of creating intense pressure to wear the opposition down, which can only be a positive factor when the heat is on.

However, there is the ever-present concern that this approach could leave them scratching their heads like the Brumbies on Saturday after being blown off the park by a more powerful attacking force.

After his team's shaky 26-21 victory over the Rebels at Newlands on Saturday Coetzee was quick to point out that the All Blacks only scored one try in the World Cup Final last year, which would be a good point if the Stormers were playing in the World Cup.

While the Cape side might not need to score any bonus points to win the competition, they have yet to show the ruthless edge which may be vital if they find themselves chasing the game in the semifinal.

The Stormers call their approach "building an innings" – it means that they like to control the game by building up an early lead which forces the opposition to take more risks.

This strategy has seen them win the majority of their matches, but never by too much and although undoubtedly effective it always seems to leave the feeling that they are playing "within themselves".

The semifinal at Newlands will be the ultimate test of whether this formula can deliver Super Rugby glory.

The only two sides that managed to beat the Stormers this season were the Sharks and the Crusaders, and both teams have a good chance of travelling to Cape Town for a semifinal next week.

The Sharks' victory over Coetzee's team in Durban saw them put the visitors on the back foot through some devastating attacking play based on a powerful performance up front – a pattern which is eerily similar to the Stormers' home semifinal loss to the Crusaders last year.

Those two matches also match up quite well with the Brumbies' defeat to the Blues last week, which is hopefully not something completely lost on Coetzee as he draws up his battleplans for another home semifinal.

By Michael de Vries


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