The DHL Stormers got pay-off for what evidently must have been some extremely hard work done on aspects of their forward play over the past two weeks when they pipped the champion Chiefs 36-34 in an exciting Vodacom Super Rugby match at Newlands on Saturday.
The Stormers’ first win of the season was built around a near perfect display in the very areas that let them down in the tournament opener against the Vodacom Bulls in Pretoria two weeks ago.
The scrum that was concentrated on so much by the media in the build-up was a lesser part of it, for the first scrum was only set in the 28th minute, but even there the Stormers fronted in the one area where the Chiefs may have been able to undermine their confidence and come back into the game.
It was the lineout work though that was the highlight. That, and the return of the mongrel to the Stormers on the drive, and the sheer physicality and belligerence with which the big men threw themselves into both their defensive and attacking play.
The Chiefs scored four tries to three and that could be an indication that there are aspects of their game that need working on for the Stormers.
But Jean de Villiers’ men, who led 26-17 at halftime, were full value for their win, even though they may have been fortunate that Chiefs reserve lock Nick Crosswell was sent from the field 10 minutes from the end by referee Jaco Peyper.
The Chiefs were building momentum then and had cut a nine-point deficit to just two through a well taken try rounded off by Andrew Horrell, and the Stormers’ defence was starting to look distinctly vulnerable.
But the Stormers did have the balance of play for most of the game, and even though they were outscored in tries, they did enough to deliver De Villiers’ pre-match promise to bring the excitement back to both the team and the Newlands crowd.
The pack wasted no time in laying down its marker and putting the team on the front foot.
The first lineout was comfortably taken by No 8 Duane Vermeulen, and the Stormers got the crowd in behind them by driving the Chiefs back several metres before referee Jaco Peyper signaled the penalty which Joe Pietersen kicked to put the hosts into a 3-0 lead after as many minutes.
And that was the other difference from last week – a good start and a solid platform in front of a boisterous home crowd inspires confidence.
This time, instead of the crowd being in behind the opposition, they were on the Stormers’ side. The conditions, typically dry and Cape later summerish, were markedly different from Durban seven days earlier too, and that helped eliminate some of the handling errors that blighted the Stormers’ game at Kings Park.
TONE SET BY EARLY LINEOUT CONTESTING
But it was the early lineout contesting that ensured that the Chiefs couldn’t get their hands on the ball in the early minutes that really set the tone.
In this regard, credit must go to De Kock Steeenkamp, who is standing in for the injured Eben Etzebeth but who has probably been the most consistent Stormers player over the first few weeks of competition.
Apart from his lineout contesting, Steenkamp contributed hugely in allround play and played a massive part in the Stormers finding the efficiency to their game that was lacking previously.
Andries Bekker, the official man of the match, was up there with him, turning in a more physical performance than he has for a while, and also being responsible for the thrust that led ultimately to the first try.
It came in the eighth minute, with Deon Fourie on hand to carry the ball forward after Bekker was held up, and eventually Elton Jantjies sealed the try by swiveling inside to wing Gio Aplon, who dotted down next to the posts.
Where in previous weeks the Stormers were stopped short by tight and tigerish defences in home derbies, they were also allowed a little leeway by the Chiefs.
Every time Damian de Allende touches the ball he seems to make at least a bit of a dent over the gainline, and the Stormers got a lot of profit from punching up the middle, with flank Siya Kolisi back to his best form two games after coming back from injury.
The Stormers were much better than they have been for a long time in putting it together in the attack zone, with Nic Groom wriggling over in the second half for this team’s third try off an attack that started in the strike-zone.
The other Stormers try came after Aaron Cruden could only stab a grubber into Rynhardt Elstadt’s boot, and Aplon was on hand to dive on the rolling ball to complete a brace of five pointers.
Cruden was however also instrumental in much that was good from the Chiefs, and after Joe Pietersen knocked on a restart, it was the flyhalf who put centre Charlie Nagatai in with a well targeted chip kick. A Cruden chip was also responsible for the Chiefs’ second try, scored by Tim Nanai Williams.
The Chiefs weren’t helped in the game by yellow cards to James Kerr-Barlow shortly before the break and then later to Crosswell.
But they were chasing the game the whole way although they showed their championship qualities with the way they kept coming back to make it a nailbiting finish when Andrew Horrell went over in the corner with 10 minutes to go.
Who knows, had Crosswell stayed on the field to keep their muster to 15 men, they might well have stolen it in the end.
DHL Stormers – Tries: Gio Aplon (2), Nic Groom. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (3). Penalties: Pietersen (5).
Chiefs – Tries: Charlie Ngatai (2), Tim Nanai-Williams, Andrew Horrell. Conversions: Gareth Anscombe (4). Penalties: Anscombe (2).