CAPE TOWN - The Stormers should be more awake than a coked-up owl at midnight when they face the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday (9.35am kickoff). That’s for sure.
But when it comes to a clever little master called Aaron Smith, they should bump that alertness up times 10.
Why? Because the guy is a menace. That’s why.
He has this annoying, seemingly innate ability to just know when to run, pass or kick. And whatever he chooses, he almost always executes it perfectly. And it’s especially around the breakdown that he’s so potent. Not only there, but especially there.
Yeah, in open play he’s also a threat. His darting runs, his linking, his pace that he can max up to the utmost of his speedometer from a standing start, and those passes ... the way he’s able to alternate soft passes with stronger ones that boast bullet-like accuracy and speed.
And don’t forget about his sniping breaks that are often effortlessly followed with a crisp, put-a-mate-away pass.
But like I said, he needs to be watched around those rucks.
I think Robbie Fleck’s guys will be cautious at the breakdown anyway given the fact that 1) they’re going up against a Kiwi side, and 2) last week’s match against the Crusaders will have motivated them to up their game in that area so much (but at least they don’t have to worry about a certain Paul Williams this time ‘round).
But there’s no harm in sending them a friendly warning anyway.
Smith often gets to the breakdowns before most of his loose forwards do. By doing that he saves himself the effort of having to deal with disruptive fringe players and, of course, his men don’t have to wait to get the ball from him to go into the next phase or to get their attack going.
He’s a huge part of the reason the New Zealanders can move the ball from contact, while the opposition is still hustling to get their defence organised. And he has a lot to do with the tempo his men can play at.
But aside from that, Smith, has also made use of quite an effective attacking ploy. And it’s worked out really well at times. And that’s his sharp, blindside grubber after a ruck.
He’s done it often this season, and although you can argue that it’s a predetermined act, it’s not at all predictable and it’s very effective ... and bloody hard to anticipate, I should add, mainly because of the speed he executes it at.
This is how it plays out - he gets the ball from the ruck, puts in a short run and then puts the ball on his boot for his wing to chase down on the blindside.
It often depends on how open (in terms of defence) the blindside is, but this scrumhalf can produce so accurate a grubber that he’d do it in a space so small that defenders won’t even bother to cover it.
You can think for yourself what that grubber can lead to ... a try if it works out, some good ground gained or, at the very least, scattered, under-pressure defence. Of course it can turn out badly for Smith and his troops as well, but I haven’t seen that happen yet.
So the Stormers need to watch that. Don’t get me wrong, the Stormers also know how to make use of attacking kicks.
Outside centre EW Viljoen and pivot Robert du Preez know how to handle a ball off the foot, and we’ve seen how effective it can be.
Remember Du Preez’s chip kick in opposition 22 against the Cheetahs at Newlands that he chased down himself to score a beautiful try? Or the one he produced to put Cheslin Kolbe away?
Viljoen has also produced a few good ones of his own, so it’s not like the Stormers don’t know how to use those legs for attacking purposes. They’ve put the opposition under some good pressure with kicks in behind their defence.
Now Stormers, again, be wary of Smith’s blindside grubber, please. Don’t let him break your focus with his pack-motivating ways.
I know he can get on a person’s last nerve with his enthusiastic, in your face, over-clapping as he celebrates all his team’s little victories within the battle.
But keep the goal in sight. Don’t let him distract you.
So one last reminder Stormers, watch that blindside grubber.