When tackling Sonny Bill Williams it's those hands that are the problem, not his legs. Picture: LUKAS COCH, EPA
CAPE TOWN - The Blues are currently floundering at the bottom of the New Zealand conference. But they will have two absolute icons of the game in their camp for Friday night’s clash against the Stormers.

Coach Tana Umaga is well it’s Tana Umaga. If you don’t know anything about the great All Black centre, then for your punishment go and look him up on the internet and write a 500-word essay on him.

And then of course there is Sonny Bill Williams, a crowd-puller if ever there was one. We all know what he can do on attack, but here are three ways the Stormers can give SBW the blues.

1 Stormers outshine him

Sonny Bill Williams seems like someone who enjoys attention quite a bit, so I don’t think he’ll like it much if someone else in the Blues team, or better yet, the Stormers team, gets a louder roar from the crowd or pulls off a better let’s say offload, for example. That’s going to be a tough one, because the code hopper and offloads have become as synonymous as Eddie Jones and mind games. Anyway, it might seem too much to expect a team to beat SBW in this department, but it can be done.

But there’s also other ways of outshining him. The Stormers can show off with beautiful running lines and stepping because, well, SBW is not exactly known for that. The Stormers just need to do whatever it takes to look better than him, you know, to remove him from the centre of attention and make him a bit desperate for the glow of the limelight. Getting back to the offloads: the Stormers can certainly compete with him. Did anybody mention EW Viljoen and Dillyn Leyds?

2 Never mind the ankles, go higher

It’s something that is coached into rugby players from a very young age – tackle the ball-carrier around the ankles, because hey, if the ankles fall, the man falls. Now this is the one aspect of rugby coaching that has been completely rubbished by SBW. In saying that I’m not saying that he doesn’t fall, because he does, and it’s not the most difficult thing in the world to bring him down.

But it’s those hands ... those hands are the problem, not his legs, because it’s not like he has a threatening step or the ability to produce half-decent grubbers. It’s his ability to get the ball away in an offload whether he’s still on his feet or flat on his back that’s the problem. So Stormers, aim to dislodge the ball, never mind his feet.

Better yet, serve him a chop tackle so memorable right across the chest that he’ll think twice about moving into space to receive the ball again.

3 Halt that glide

Okay, so SBW isn’t a threat of note when it comes his running lines, but he has this ability to glide across the turf that seems to distract opponents. Apart from the fact that he looks good while doing it, it gives him time to look around as he swings his head this way and that way looking for his support runners. Now that shouldn’t even be allowed to happen at Newlands on Friday.

The Stormers should be on him as soon as he gets to grip the ball in those hands that handle the ball like there’s a magnetic connection. Close him down, remove his space. Get in his way (but be careful when doing that, not all teams get away with being offside like a certain black-and-red New Zealand team does). Just shut him down. If there’s no space, who knows, SBW might just go MIA.


Cape Times