Stormers scrum stands steady

Despite big name losses they still boast experience up front

18 January 2024 - 13:00
By Liam Del Carme
Ali Vermaak on the charge for the Stormers in their United Rugby Championship against Zebre at Danie Craven Stadium in December.
Image: Ashley Vlotman (Gallo Images) Ali Vermaak on the charge for the Stormers in their United Rugby Championship against Zebre at Danie Craven Stadium in December.

Despite losing double Rugby World Cup winners Steven Kitshoff to Ulster and Frans Malherbe to injury, the Stormers scrum has stood its ground this season.

There had been more than a hint of trepidation about their fortunes in the scrums without the decorated Bok pair, but the men entrusted with the job have weathered the storm with aplomb.

That the Stormers still boast vast experience in that department has greatly helped their cause.

The seasoned Ali Vermaak, 34, Sti Sithole, 30, Neethling Fouche, 31, and Brok Harris, 38, have been the mainstays in the Stormers' scrum this season and that they are long-serving pros has seen the team negotiate a period that might otherwise have developed into a crisis.

Over time they've figured out what makes them tick and Vermaak has identified their ability to troubleshoot as an area that has helped set the Stormers' scrum apart.

While the Lions with a 97% success rate top the list for efficiency in the scrum, the Stormers with 84%, curiously, have the worst.

However, the Stormers' 25 set piece penalties are the most in the competition which is a clear sign they know when to show their claws.

It is no secret that props become a lot harder and tougher to scrum against as they reach their 30s,” Vermaak pointed out. And with props normally being replaced between 45 and 60 minutes you need to be on top of your game if you don’t want to be caught on skates at scrum time,” he remarked on the team's website.

Having the opportunity to discuss certain techniques daily with some of the world’s best players in your position makes life a lot easier.

Since we’ve been playing together for a few years now, communication during training or games has become a lot easier in understanding and rectification in a short time.”

Vermaak contends playing in European competitions helps steel front rankers for the demands of the set piece.

One of the most significant opportunities offered by all the competitions we’re playing in is one is able to measure and compare yourself against some of the best props in the world who are, literally, of all shapes and sizes.”

The Stormers face Stade Francais in Paris in their last Champions Cup pool match on Saturday. They have all but qualified for the knockout stages, but Vermaak is aware winning momentum needs to be maintained before they take a mini break and return to United Rugby Championship action on February 17 in Durban.

We all have realised over the years that winning is a habit, and so is losing,” Vermaak said. “To us, as a group playing in different formats, it is important to maintain that culture and winning momentum.”