Workmanlike Stormers go top
There was nothing spectacular about the way they did it but the Stormers achieved what they set out to do as they powered back to the top of the Vodacom Super Rugby log with a 19-13 win over the Waratahs at Newlands on Saturday.
The Stormers scored two tries to one and in the end never came close to the four-try bonus point that so many of their supporters and critics have been calling for. It did though look as though the platform had been created when they led 13-3 and had already crossed the Waratahs line twice by the 33rd minute, but they came just short in their quest to nail down another try before halftime.
Given the way they have made a habit of fading in the third quarter at home this season, the fade immediately after halftime, which the Stormers enjoyed with a 16-3 lead, was almost predictable. Suddenly instead of the Stormers enjoying the momentum, as they had in the second part of the first half, it was the Waratahs who stormed back in the same way that the Hurricanes, Bulls and Cheetahs have in recent games here.
The second half had scarcely started when Waratahs No 8 Dave Dennis broke an Andries Bekker tackle and surged up the left flank. Centre Rob Horne was up with him to take the pass and go through for a try which, with the Brendan McKibbin conversion, saw the Australian franchise back in the contest.
And a few minutes later they were even more so as McKibbin made no mistake again, this time from a penalty that reduced the deficit to three points.
But if all that was fairly predictable, so was the Stormers’ ability to recover the situation. The bonus point was forgotten as an issue, and instead they turned to the safety first tactics that ensured that the four log points they needed to draw level with the Chiefs at the top, but into pole position on the basis of more victories, were packed away into their old kitbag.
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FEARED DRIVING MAUL
There was never enough of a lead after that for them to feel comfortable, with the Waratahs always just one score behind, but they did manage to control most of the last quarter to the extent that there was seldom much prospect of the Waratahs winning. A Grant penalty in the 51st minute turned the gap into a six pointer, and that was the way it remained for the last half hour.
There were a few moments of consternation though, such as when the Waratahs lost the ball on the Stormers corner flag on the hour mark. But it was almost as if the Stormers then checked their watches and noted that the third quarter was over, for after that they were composed and always kept the Waratahs at arms-length. They spent the last five minutes camped in Waratahs territory and that was the game on a night where the boot dominated proceedings.
The Waratahs appeared determined to play into the Stormers hands by carrying the ball at them, and instead spent most of the game kicking it. This led to long static periods where not a lot appeared to be happening, with both teams taking turns to win mini-battles within the kicking game.
The Stormers were the team that made the early mistakes, and a McKibbin penalty put his team 3-0 ahead after 10 minutes. The Stormers had to wait until the 16th minute before being awarded a penalty. The first Stormers try was scored against the run of play, and came as the result of a Gio Aplon break through the middle after taking the ball from Dewaldt Duvenage, who played the loop from the lineout.
When the Stormers won the ball off the recycle they had an advantage in numbers going left and they were able to exploit it with some quick handling down the line as Joe Pietersen scored near the corner flag. Grant was short with the conversion but Pietersen kicked a penalty two minutes later to make it 8-3, which was the cue for the Stormers to start exerting more sustained pressure on the Waratahs.
It paid off with a series of attacking lineouts from which the Stormers deployed their feared driving maul, and it paid off in the 33rd minute when, after the move broke down on the Waratahs tryline, flanker Siya Kolisi took halfback and played the impressive Eben Etzebeth on the blindside. Etzebeth, the Stormers' man of the match for his powerful fronting of the Waratahs, produced a skillful pass for a lock forward and it sent Tiaan Liebenberg in at the corner flag.
The Stormers were never headed once they scored their first try and deserved to win as they controlled most of the game but they are going to have to improve immeasurably if they hope to continue their winning run when they face their inform coastal rivals, the Sharks, in Durban next Saturday.
DHL Stormers – Try: Joe Pietersen, Tiaan Liebenberg. Penalties: Joe Pietersen (2), Peter Grant.
Waratahs – Try: Rob Horne. Conversion: Brendan McKibbin. Penalties: Brendan McKibbin (2)