The Chiefs meet the Stormers tonight in Hamilton. Expect a dogfight. If there's one thing the Stormers have staked their reputation on in recent years it is unremitting defence.
Whether it is structured defence from set play or, as was the case against the Crusaders last week, inspirational drift-scrambling defence, the Cape Town-based side has built a culture around it.
In this chalkboard column I will explain 1. Why the Stormers are so hard to break down, 2. The out-to-in defence they use so effectively, 3. Why it makes Jean de Villiers such a dangerous attacking weapon, even when the Stormers do not have the ball and, 4. Why this defence sometimes leaves them vulnerable.
The Stormers' out-to-in defence
1. The Stormers pride themselves on the inability of opposition attacks to break them down.
This is as much about culture and mindset as it is about technique and strategy. They have good systems and structures in place and it gives every player confidence that the man next to them has bought into the philosophy and will do their job.
In this respect they are similar to the Crusaders in their heyday. The key difference is that while the Crusaders shared the same suffocating defence as the Stormers, they had more attacking nous and the individual talent to make the most of their attacking opportunities. At the moment, the Stormers are tilted too far towards defence and don't have enough firepower to score enough points.
2. Most teams defend in the traditional in-to-out way. They line up against their man's inside shoulder so they take away the attacker's ability to step inside them. The ultimate aim of this defence is to force the attacking team out to the touchline giving away as few forward metres as possible in the process.
The Stormers do apply this structure but are more effective than any other team at flipping it and calling out-to-in. They do this by having their outside two, three or sometimes four players rushing up from the outside.
This serves two purposes: it gets in the first and second-receivers peripheral vision, meaning they are likely to sense danger and turn the ball back inside. The Stormers want the ball heading back towards the breakdown because they have outstanding loose forwards who are brilliant over the ball.
If the receivers are still committed to getting the ball wide, they fancy their chances of intercepts, or collecting outsides in ball-in-all tackles after their insides have thrown hospital passes.
3. Jean de Villiers is the master of leading this defence. He reads the play so well he sometimes is a one-man out-to-in defence. He and Gio Aplon are great at sniffing out intercept opportunities.
De Villiers' rugby brain is so highly regarded, his coaches give him licence to read the play and act as he sees fit. Out-to-in is much easier to organise from set-piece, so his communication has to be spot on to employ it from phase-play.
He is, in effect, an attacking weapon from defence. He could just do with a bit more attacking class around him to capitalize on the attacking opportunities he creates.
4. With any gamble, and the out-and-in defence is considered by many coaches to be a gamble, there comes risk.
Look for the Chiefs' Aaron Cruden to utilise a kick-pass tonight. When the outsides rush up, there is space behind to explore, is the first and second receivers have the speed of thought to recognise it.
There is also what is known as the transition hole between the outside and inside defenders that can be vulnerable to attack.
On the one hand you could say Stormers games tend to be suffocating, strangling affairs, but I am looking forward to watching the Chiefs, one of the smartest teams around, trying different methods to break them down.