The DHL Stormers introduced some uncertainty into the finishing script of their coastal rivals, the Cell C Sharks, as a last gasp Jaco Taute drop-goal secured them a narrow 21-19 win in a mostly forgettable Vodacom Super Rugby derby at Growthpoint Kings Park on Saturday.
The negative result means that suddenly the Sharks’ chances of finishing top on the overall log are looking decidedly uncertain. Although they have a two-point lead on the strongly finishing Waratahs going into the break for the June internationals, the Australian team have a game in hand. And the Crusaders are hovering not far away as well.
What Saturday’s play did do was clinch the Sharks their top spot in the South African conference. But then that was pretty much assured anyway, and they didn’t really need the Lions to down the Vodacom Bulls in an earlier game to feel secure locally.
The Waratahs’ big win over the Chiefs in New Plymouth earlier in the day would have sent out a loud warning to the Sharks, and in the early minutes it looked as though they had heeded it. In no time at all they were 6-0 up, with Frans Steyn kicking two penalties and the Sharks scrum crunching their less experienced and under-strength opponents.
Nizaam Carr was also sent from the field for 10 minutes for a dangerous tackle on Jaco Reinach, and it looked as though the odds were stacked against the team from the Cape as the Sharks piled into them. But then came a brace of penalties from Kurt Coleman, the Sharks never took advantage of the period they were 15 against 14, and suddenly you could sense the Stormers gaining belief.
Steyn and Coleman traded another penalty each and with three minutes to go to halftime, it was deadlocked at 9-all. The Stormers, playing away and depleted like they were, would have been the more confident team.
Unfortunately for them though their exiting was never good in this match, and Kurt Coleman didn’t get enough distance from a clearance near his line. It gave the Sharks one last attacking line-out in the half, and they made maximum use of it as they drove it up and the energetic Reinach surged off the side. S’bura Sithole scythed through the two defenders and Reinach, one of the players who has played less than most of the other Sharks because he was injured, went over to score.
The Steyn conversion made it 16-9 to the Sharks at halftime and you sensed maybe the Stormers’ chances had gone. However, they hung in after halftime, and their greater energy was what carried them through a half where they scored 12 points against three from the Sharks.
To be fair, the Sharks looked like a team out on its feet, and you could even suggest the Stormers made heavy weather of putting them away. With 20 minutes to go, and Marcell Coetzee off the field after being yellow carded and just one point between the teams, it looked like the Stormers’ game.
But the Stormers, even though they won, did a lot wrong in this game, and two kicks for touch from penalties near the halfway failed to find their mark, which was unforgiveable. You have to wonder too why, when the Stormers do get kicks in those positions, they don’t turn to Taute to do the place-kicks. He kicked a monster from well inside his own half against the Sharks in the 2011 Currie Cup final, so is capable of long distances.
That though will be irrelevant to the Stormers, who had a lot of inexperience on the field and started as rank underdogs. What was a telling factor against the Sharks was Charl McLeod, the Sharks scrumhalf, kicking onto Taute from a scrum when there were just seconds left on the clock.
Had the Sharks forwards just wound the clock down, McLeod could have kicked the ball out on the hooter to end the game. Instead he kicked upfield, Taute gathered, and the ever more impressive Sailosi Tagicakibau surged upfield. The Stormers swung the ball across to the right, referee Jaco Peyper threw his arm out to signify a penalty advantage, and Taute decided the best way to secure the kick at posts – it was almost in front – was to try a drop-kick.
It went through the posts amid an almost-surreal silence at Kings Park, with the only action anywhere being the blue clad Stormers celebrating wildly. And so they should have. Regardless of the circumstances, they travelled to the home venue of the top team on the log and won. The Sharks may have been tired, but the Cape side were depleted by injury, so it all balanced itself out in the end.
Stormers – Penalties: Kurt Coleman 4; Demetri Catrakilis 2. Drop-goal: Jaco Taute.
Sharks – Try: Cobus Reinach; Conversion: Frans Steyn; Penalties: Frans Steyn 4.