The Reds kept up the recent Vodacom Super Rugby trend of home team dominance by eking out a 22-17 win over the DHL Stormers in Brisbane that will ensure that the Cape side flies back home on Sunday having lost all four games on tour.
That is the worst return for the Stormers on tour since 1998 when they played as the Western Stormers and wore jerseys that looked like porridge, and it won’t be much consolation to Jean de Villiers and his men that in all four matches they were well in it in the 75th minute of play.
It is getting over the line for the victory that counts, and the one bonus point they picked up for losing by less than seven won’t really help their chances of making an effective challenge now that they go into an extended home run.
The Stormers would be forgiven if they look back on the tour as if they were in the Bill Murray movie from around 10 years ago, Groundhog Day. In that movie the Murray character ended up reliving the same day over and over again. That is what it must have felt like for the Stormers on this tour, with skipper Jean de Villiers aptly summing it all up afterwards.
“Every week we seem to have the same questions and the same answers and once again we were in it but unfortunately couldn’t get over the line,” said De Villiers.
“Our inexperience again showed near the end when we made some bad decisions. What is frustrating is we seem to keep making the same mistakes. We are doing the same thing week after week.”
While they conspired against themselves, as De Villiers says, in all the games lost on the tour, there were mitigating circumstances, and in the Brisbane match it was clearly the one area where the Stormers have had a massive injury backlog that they most struggled.
In every single game they have played this season the Stormers have had a new lock pairing, and it was the same again against the Reds. Where is Jurie van Vuuren ranked among the Stormers locks? He isn’t really, for he is effectively a young blindside flank and was forced to play in this game because of an injury to another youngster, Ruan Botha, who is himself quite a long way down the pecking order.
So it may be understandable that it was really the lineouts that lost the Stormers this game. Michael Rhodes was huge in allround play and on defence, and the Stormers need not take a backward step in most areas of play with him in the side, but Deon Fourie hasn’t started at hooker all season and he was throwing to locks he hasn’t thrown to before.
The net result was a poor lineout performance, with the ball being poached by the Reds if it wasn’t being thrown in skew, and that cost the Stormers any chance of exerting sustained pressure and building up any kind of momentum.
It may not have been a coincidence that it was when Stefan Coetzee came on late in the game that the Stormers looked most settled in the lineouts, and they scored a great driving maul try notched by newcomer Sikhumbuzo Notshe that brought them to within five points of the Reds with execution that was clinical and impressive.
So perhaps coach Allister Coetzee should learn from that and realise that perhaps there are hookers who are more specialist in the position these days than Fourie, who has played most of his recent rugby in the loose-forwards and excels there.
It wasn’t the only area that let the Stormers down though. The Stormers scored a great try in the ninth minute, with Nizaam Carr and Siya Kolisi, both good on the night, surging across the advantage line to create the space that enabled the Stormers to put Damian de Allende for the try courtesy of some precise and direct running and passing from Peter Grant and Gio Aplon.
It has been a rare event for the Stormers to be up by a try early in the game, but it didn’t last as it quickly became evident that apart from the dicey lineouts, the Stormers also weren’t really posing any questions on attack with the depth they keep persisting with when running the ball at the back.
Most of the play is off the flyhalf these days, and also from deep positions. This is confounding if you consider how much Grant likes playing the ball flat and how he excels at that game. It is because the flyhalf is not playing to his strength that the Stormers attacks mostly look as predictable as the arrival of the weather systems in the Cape in winter.
Grant had a chance to extend the Stormers lead to 10 points but was wide with a kick that was from the limit of his range. To be fair, Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper also missed an early kick when he hit the post from 30 metres. However Cooper made good with a kick from the other side of the field in the 19th minute to bring the Reds to a four point deficit.
With the lineout failures of the Stormers playing such a big role, the Stormers came a poor second in the battle for possession in the first half, with the Reds’ ability to take the ball through the phases responsible for a stat that reflected that they commanded 74% of the available possession in the opening quarter.
Inevitably that had to pay off for the Reds, who being back at home found they had less of a refereeing obstacle this week than they encountered in South Africa, and some good phase play put them in position to score their only try of the match, with Dom Shipperly making the initial thrust and the forwards then supplying the pick and go that saw lock Rob Simmonds slide over near the posts.
The conversion made it a three point game with the Reds in the ascendancy, and it became 13-7 through another Cooper penalty before Grant drew a three pointer back for the Stormers to be well in the game at 13-10 down at halftime.
It remained close until there were 14 minutes to go, which was when a Cooper drop-goal pushed the Reds more than a score in front for the first time (19-10), with another penalty making it 22-10. That was the cue for the Stormers to launch their resurgence, as they had in the previous weeks, and as they had in those previous weeks, they came back to make it close with five minutes to go.
At least this time they didn’t concede points at the death like they did against the Chiefs and Brumbies, but it was still the same result as mistakes prevented them from crossing the line into the winner’s circle. As I say, Groundhog Day all over again.
The Stormers weren’t helped by the horrible injury, which looked like a dislocated wrist, suffered by Gio Aplon in the first half. Before he went off Aplon helped make the Stormers look more dangerous than was the case after his departure.
Reds- Try: Rob Simmons. Conversion: Quade Cooper. Drop Goal: Quade Cooper. Penalties: Quade Cooper(3).
Stormers - Tries: Damian de Allende, Sikhumbuzo Notshe. Conversions: Peter Grant (2). Penalty: Peter Grant.