Grant penalty clinches Stormers win
The DHL Stormers maintained their recent dominance over the Sharks in Vodacom Super Rugby derbies when a Peter Grant penalty two minutes from time earned them a hard-fought 15-12 win at Newlands on Saturday.
The Sharks arrived in Cape Town severely depleted and some sections of the Cape media were predicting an easy win for the Stormers, but it was anything but that. Indeed, the Sharks will be flying back to Durban on Sunday lamenting the indiscipline that cost them the momentum they were building before halftime, when they led 9-6.
Certainly the statistics at the halfway point suggested the Sharks should have been more than just three points ahead. They were always the more innovative team on attack and it has to be said that the Stormers appear to be persisting with last season’s tendency of being way too lateral when they attack through the backs.
The most telling statistic at the break was the one that said that the Stormers had been forced to make 80 tackles against the less than 30 by the Sharks. The visitors missed just six of their tackles while the Stormers missed 18, and it was the second week in succession that the normally frugal Stormers fell off tackles.
The most crucial statistic of all when it comes to defence though is the try count, and the Stormers were good enough with their scramble defence to prevent the Sharks from crossing their line, and ultimately the Sharks’ inability to make their period of dominance count on the scoreboard is what cost them the match.
That and a nightmare third quarter where they conceded six penalties without having any of their own. They conceded another three after that and their only penalty of the half came as late as the 34th minute, with Patrick Lambie kicking from near halfway to bring the scores level after the Stormers had been leading 12-9.
The Stormers had missed three kicks at goal in the third quarter, with Joe Pietersen succeeding just once to bring the scores level at 9-all before Grant put his team into the lead after coming on as a replacement with 20 minutes to go.
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When Lambie drew the scores level with just six minutes left a draw looked the likely result in this low scoring and not particularly memorable match, and it would probably have been a fair reflection at that point. However the Stormers weren’t finished, they dug deep, and their forwards produced an awesome scrum that turned over Sharks ball and set up the attack that eventually saw the Sharks concede a penalty on the touchline.
So Grant, for the second time in 12 months, found himself kicking for a Stormers win in his first match back in Stormers colours after returning from Japan and playing from the bench. Last year it was the Lions who suffered, and this time it was the Sharks who must have known their fate the moment his trusty boot struck the ball.
But the Sharks, like the Hurricanes a week ago against these same opponents, can feel culpable as they let their discipline slip. Apart from the penalties they conceded, the 10 minutes lock Ross Skeate spent off the field after being carded halfway through the second half did not help the visitors. It was then that their lineout, so much better for most of the match than it had been at Loftus a week earlier, stopped functioning, and so did their scrum.
As expected the battle for gainline supremacy was bruising, and the Stormers, certainly in the first half, didn’t dominate like they did in their two games against these opponents last year. The Sharks were ever alert to attacking opportunities no matter where they were on the field, and the way they broke tackles on the counter-attack helped their kick and chase game.
The Sharks dominated early possession, then the Stormers came back into it, but in the last part of the first half it was the Sharks who looked distinctly the stronger team, and two Lambie penalties put them into a 9-6 lead that could have been bigger had they been just a fraction more accurate on the attack.
Bismarck du Plessis played his best game for a while and was responsible for a couple of turn-overs, Marcell Coetzee is a good prospect as a loose-forward, while on the Stormers side the young prop Steven Kitshoff and equally green lock Eben Etzebeth further enhanced reputations that started burgeoning during last week’s win against the Hurricanes.
The Sharks return to Durban to face the Lions next week with two away defeats on their record and under early pressure in the competition whereas the Stormers take their bye knowing that they have done what was expected of them in this initial part of the Super Rugby campaign. Both teams are going to have to improve considerably though if they want to have a say in the destination of the trophy this year.
DHL Stormers – Penalties: Joe Pietersen (3), Peter Grant (2).
Sharks – Penalty: Pat Lambie (4).