Neutralising Aki a key part of Stormers’ defensive plan

Stopping Bundee Aki will be a major part of the Stormers’ defensive plans when they face Connacht this weekend. | AFP

Stopping Bundee Aki will be a major part of the Stormers’ defensive plans when they face Connacht this weekend. | AFP

Published May 15, 2024


Leighton Koopman

Tackle him.

That is the plan the Stormers have with Ireland international Bundee Aki in the midfield ahead of their United Rugby Championship (URC) clash in Galway, Ireland on Saturday evening.

For the Cape side to secure a knockout spot in the URC this season, they only have to beat the Irish dark horse at home (kick-off 6.05pm). If they can do this with a bonus point for scoring four tries or more, it could take the pressure off them in their final URC round robin match against the Lions at the end of the month in Cape Town.

That South African derby match could be a do-or-die clash for the Ellis Park side in their bid to reach the top eight of the tournament.

Angelo Davids. | Backpagepix

On Saturday in Ireland, the Stormers are hoping for dry conditions underfoot in which they can force their game plan on the home side.

One player they have identified as a massive threat is Aki. The New Zealand-born midfielder is an explosive runner and strong defender who has the ability to shut the Stormers attack down.

Norman Laker, defence coach of the Cape side, said they won’t fall into the trap of just looking after Aki even though he poses a massive threat to their attempts to secure the victory.

“We’ve learnt lessons in the past and won’t put any emphasis on just one individual,” Laker said. “Look, we played against him in Stellenbosch, that was one of our first games against him in the season.

“He is a phenomenal player and obviously being a New Zealander, he is a tough guy. But from past experiences, if you put the emphasis on one guy, the other one next to him runs through.

“The defenders opposite Bundee must look after him and the guy next to him. I’ve learnt my lessons in the past by putting too much emphasis on a guy and on the day he doesn’t make too many carries and passes the ball to the guy next to him. You prepare so much for him but the player outside him makes the metres.”

But the guys in the system know what is expected of them defensively, and they know where to apply the pressure.

This past weekend the Stormers hardly secured the possession they wanted on attack and defensively they were put through their paces by the Dragons out in Wales. It will have been a crucial wake-up call ahead of the Connacht clash and something they won’t want a repeat of on Saturday.

“We had to get a lot of energy from our defence and how we tackled on our tryline. The guys did very well conceding only one five-pointer with (winger) Angelo Davids stopping one, and the other defenders holding an attack up over the tryline. I am very proud of that defensive effort in the first half so that we could turn things around in the second half,” Laker said.

According to him, things will intensify this weekend, especially because they are up against an Irish side that can catch you unawares at crucial times.

“Andy Friend was their coach for a while, and he has put in structures that will last a bit. Their attacking is a lot similar to the other Irish teams and they like to put you under pressure with the ball in hand. We will have to be on song on Saturday to stop their big ball carriers.”