Stormers scrape bruising Newlands derby
The Stormers managed to keep in touch with the Bulls in the battle for conference supremacy in Vodacom Super Rugby supremacy, but they had the Newlands faithful sweating in the last minutes as they squeezed to a narrow 16-14 win over the Cheetahs.
They didn’t get the bonus point win that would have put them ahead of the Bulls on the basis of their having scored more wins, and the Bulls have a one point lead at the top with six matches to play. The Stormers should just be thankful though that once again they managed to hold their nerve in the last minutes after yet another of those perplexing Newlands third quarter walkabouts, something skipper Jean de Villiers said afterwards that he was very unhappy with.
"We won but we're not happy about the way we played in that second half. If we play like that in our next three games (against the Waratahs, Sharks and Bulls) we're in for a rude awakening," said De Villiers.
Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss lamented his team's inability to get into the game in the first half, which ended with them trailing 16-0.
"We did the things we had decided we weren't going to do in this game, like giving the Stormers scoring opportunities through penalties, and against a good defensive team like they are you can't afford to go behind," said Strauss.
As was the case in the last home match against the Bulls, the Stormers were well ahead at the break and looked to be cruising to victory. But Jean de Villiers’s team was unable to add to their score in the second half, while the Cheetahs struck back with two tries as they took the game down to the wire.
The first, which was completed by fullback Hennie Danniller off the overlap in the 48th minute wasn’t too much cause for concern, as the Stormers were still comfortably ahead. But then, just as the Stormers appeared to be recovering from their second half fade and were hammering away at the Cheetahs line in the quest for their second try, left wing Willie le Roux intercepted to run the length of the field to score.
Suddenly it was a two point game with 14 minutes to go, and in the initial part of that last period the Stormers were pinned in their own half. But the Stormers showed their maturity by keeping their discipline under pressure and eventually played their way away from the danger zone, and they had enough control in the last 10 minutes to get away with the win.
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But it was desperately close, and it will be a reminder to the Stormers that playing at home does not automatically mean you win, though they should know that after winning Newlands derbies against the Sharks and the Bulls with last-minute penalty kicks.
For the first 40 minutes it appeared those Stormers supporters who sit with their hearts in their mouths gnawing their fingers when they watch their team play would have an enjoyable afternoon off. At that stage it looked like there was never going to be any doubt about who the winner would be.
The Cheetahs started with intent, but it was the Stormers, their physical forward pack in the forefront, who took charge of the game as they forced the Cheetahs into error. Sias Ebersohn missed a penalty early doors and then fluffed a penalty kick for touch, and the Stormers capitalised on those let-offs by going 3-0 ahead through a Peter Grant penalty after nine minutes.
Grant kicked another one three minutes later to make it 6-0 ahead after 12 minutes. The Stormers' dominance continued, the Cheetahs scrum wilted somewhat in the face of the Stormers' wit in this phase, and with referee Steve Walsh playing his part by penalising the Cheetahs unit for infringing, there was no way forward for the Cheetahs.
A Grant penalty after 16 minutes made it 9-0 just beyond the quarter hour mark, and when Eben Etzebeth forced his way over after a patient, sustained physical build-up by his team, the talk in the stands started to focus on a bonus point win. The Stormers were ahead 16-0 after 23 minutes, and surely they couldn’t lose from there.
The wish for the bonus point probably evaporated when the Stormers failed to score when they attacked early in the second half and then Rynhardt Elstadt was yellow carded for sparking a furious brawl that looked like something out of the 1976 series between the Springboks and Andy Leslie’s All Blacks.
The assistant referee Jonathan Kaplan saw Elstadt put a knee into a prone Cheetahs player at a defensive loose scrum, an act which caused all hell to break loose.
When the onfield bedlam was finally brought to order the the Cheetahs’ tails were up, but this was the cue for the Stormers’ main strength, their organised and physical defence, to come to the fore. Wave after wave of Cheetahs attack against the 14-man Stormers was repelled, most of it through sheer physical strength at the breakdown.
DHL Stormers – Try: Eben Etzebeth. Conversion: Peter Grant. Penalties: Peter Grant (3).
Toyota Cheetahs –Tries: Hennie Daniller, Willie le Roux.. Conversions: Riaan Smit (2).