Cape Town - The Stormers will never shy away from using their maul as a weapon, says Rito Hlungwani, but they need to improve their execution in Sunday’s Champions Cup clash against London Irish (3pm SA time kick-off).
Despite losing just three games (Cardiff, Clermont and Glasgow) and drawing one (Ospreys) out of 13 this season, the Stormers have come under pressure following last week’s 24-17 United Rugby Championship defeat to the Warriors in Scotland.
That perhaps comes with the territory of being the champions of the United Rugby Championship, with the weight of expectation immense in a success-starved rugby city.
But it was more the manner of going down to Glasgow at Scotstoun Stadium than the result itself that would have disappointed coach John Dobson and his team, as the Capetonians made unnecessary mistakes that lost them momentum.
There were too many slipped tackles and not enough dominant hits, they didn’t convert enough of their line-out drives into points, and were not efficient with ball-in-hand on attack or with their kicking game in defence either.
Hlungwani is adamant that those issues have been addressed over the last few days in London ahead of Sunday’s encounter at the Brentford Community Stadium.
“When we came out of that game, one thing we said was that we can’t drop our spirits or drop our heads, based on this loss. But the one thing we must look for is learning from it,” the former lock said yesterday.
“We need to learn on how to finish these games, how to shut them out … There were a few things that were within our control that we didn’t execute, and we spent numerous hours in meetings talking about how we can do certain things better.
“But it’s not necessarily a big issue that we are concerned about. We have identified certain things from the Glasgow game – which were probably different to the Cardiff game – but those are things that we’ve learnt from and want to improve.”
Mauling is usually a Stormers strength, and they did score off a drive when hooker Joseph Dweba broke away and burst through Kyle Steyn’s tackle in the first half in Glasgow.
Loose forward Junior Pokomela also eventually crossed the line from a series of pick-and-go carries from an initial maul, but they had several other chances that they would want to convert against London Irish.
“The big disappointment from a forwards point of view was the standard at which we mauled at. We were let down by how we didn’t stick to our structure, our system and the way we connect and all of that,” Hlungwani said.
“We had more mauling opportunities than we’ve had in any game, and as I said to the players: I walked out of that game (thinking) these guys (Glasgow) have really done well to stop us. But after reviewing the game, we saw how poor we were with the things we wanted to achieve with the maul.
“It was all on us … We were not good enough when it comes to mauling. Usually we take that opportunity, especially in the 22. Trying to maul so much is never a problem for us, but the execution was a big problem, which we’ve identified and since fixed. We will never feel that we maul too much.”
Wing Leolin Zas is the only player unavailable after sustaining a glute muscle injury last week, but the Stormers are thinking of making a few changes anyway to freshen up the team.
“The rest of the guys are fit: Stef Ungerer’s been training, Sacha (Feinberg-Mngomezulu) has been training, guys who are coming back from injury,” Hlungwani said.
“There are a lot of variations that we could go for … Sacha has played 12 before, so we could move Damian (Willemse) back to fullback and Blomme (Clayton Blommetjies) to wing – whatever it is, we are happy with where we are.
“We are playing in two competitions, so we’ve pre-planned load distribution around our players. It gets tricky when there are injuries, but you can almost expect us to rotate the team every single weekend, where we can.
“We always try to keep it to less than seven changes, but you can expect rotation in certain positions.”