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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Rousing homecoming for Stormers



The DHL Stormers gathered some momentum after a disappointing tour with a resounding 37-20 Vodacom Super Rugby win over the Blues at Newlands on Saturday.

Most of those who watched the Stormers play the 160 minutes against Kiwi teams in New Zealand would have agreed with Stormers coach Robbie Fleck’s contention that his side had shown dramatic signs of improvement overseas and particularly in the way they tackle New Zealand opposition.

But they did lose both games so it was important for the Stormers to make a statement, not just for themselves but for South African rugby as a whole.

The Emirates Lions did lose to the Blues last week but overall the South African teams, with the exception perhaps of the Sharks, who looked like they were playing in slow motion against the Brumbies earlier in the day, do look like they have started to make up some ground on the Kiwis when it comes to tempo and willingness to be adventurous.

The Vodacom Bulls made a big statement even in defeat in Hamilton the day before with the way they ran the ball into space in the first half against the Chiefs, and in the first half of the Newlands game the Stormers played with a pace, intensity and skill level that was irresistible and had the 22 000-strong crowd baying for more.

The Stormers were 24-3 up at halftime and although the Blues did come back slightly in the second half and scored three tries to cancel out any Stormers hopes of a bonus point, the home side always looked comfortable winners.

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Their young flyhalf Damian de Allende was a deserved man of the match for the way he both managed the game and for his kicking out of hand and at posts.

He never missed a kick all afternoon and after accumulating 17 points of his own through four conversions, some of them from difficult angles and three penalties, plus getting virtually every kick for touch and tactical play spot on, it looks like he is maturing rapidly.

He was impressive in Dunedin last week against the Highlanders too so the Kiwis will know that they faced a big star of the future.

The Stormers had endured a bizarre build-up to the game with the week since their return from New Zealand being dominated by headlines about a flu epidemic that hit the squad and prevented the Stormers from getting in any serious training until Thursday.

Even then, some of the players who faced the Blues were in bed when the rest of the team trained two days ago.

But from the opening minutes you could almost hear the questions being asked around the stadium – “Flu, what flu? If these guys have flu, then I need to get some flu. Was it all a hoax?”

It certainly looked like it when the Stormers swung straight into action from the kick-off, with a sustained attack that included a big carry from Steven Kitshoff and the pivotal break from Dillyn Leyds leading to EW Viljoen going over off an inside pass.

SOME LUCK

It was a great start to the game for the Stormers and it didn’t stop there, with Nizaam Carr almost immediately afterwards being put in a gap and nearly creating another try only for the ball to be spilled forward.

The Stormers were on fire and their counter-rucking was inspired and committed, as was their swarming defence, and the Blues were straining under the early pressure.

The crowd didn’t have to wait too long for the second try, with Raymond Rhule, who had an excellent allround game in his second appearance at Newlands as a member of the home team, going over off a great counter-attack that was started by Leyds (he could easily have been man of the match too) and featured a barnstorming run down the left touchline from Pieter-Steph du Toit.

The Springbok lock played this game as a flank due to the flu crisis.

Cobus Wiese, impacted by flu during the week and thus not included in the starting team, came on later in the game and proved that the Stormers don’t have any worries at No 7, but Du Toit nonetheless showed that he is a more than capable loose-forward.

The locks, effectively stand-ins in both the case of Jan du Toit and Chris van Zyl because of the injuries to JD Schickerling and Eben Etzebeth, were excellent too, while Kitshoff, Carr, skipper Siya Kolisi, Wilco Louw and hooker Ramone Samuels were all busy and underlined the forward depth available to the Cape franchise.

Of course, everyone knows by now that the Stormers have plenty of forward options and their pack has yet to take a backward step this season, but this was a game where the Stormers started to supplement their ability to carry through the middle with a willingness to bring width to their attack.

Fleck would have been pleased at how often the Stormers appeared to outflank their opponents by just getting the ball through the hands and through good interplay between backs and forwards.

Bryn Gatland, the Blues flyhalf, did get three points for his team and towards the end of the first half it looked like the Blues might be settling, but Willemse’s first penalty from the tee and an excellent try four minutes from the halftime hooter that came off another good period of attacking saw to it that Kolisi’s team went to the break with a comfortable 21 point cushion.

The Blues started the second half strongly and were nearly over when hooker James Parsons was held up on the line.

They did eventually score through No 8 Akira Ioane who went over from close range to cut the Stormers' lead to 16 points and were building up strongly as they pressed for a try that might have changed the whole complexion of the game.

But after seeing a bit of luck going against them overseas it was time for the Stormers to profit from some luck, and a JJ Engelbrecht intercept inside his own 22 set up the try that EW Viljoen scored to put the Stormers score into the thirties.

Engelbrechts is quick but he was chased down by Rieko Ioane so it was fortunate that Viljoen was up in support and able to cross for his second try.

The Blues crossed the line twice more to end any speculation over whether the Stormers might get the bonus point, but two Willemse penalties ensured that the win was in the bag for a team that is certainly much more capable than their record for the season so far – two wins in five starts – suggests.

SCORERS

DHL Stormers 37 – Tries: EW Viljoen 2, Raymond Rhule and Dewaldt Duvenage; Conversions: Damian Willemse 4; Penalties: Damian Willemse 3.

Blues 20 – Tries: Akira Ioane, Michael Collins and Rieko Ioane; Conversion: Stephen Perofeta; Penalty: Bryn Gatland.



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