The DHL Stormers ended any talk or speculation about relegation from Vodacom Super Rugby by systematically squeezing the life out of the Southern Kings en route to a 19-11 win at a drenched Newlands on Saturday.
The game was fairly close on the scoreboard for most of the way, but then it was always going to be on a sodden field after long periods of torrential downpours earlier in the day.
It only really bucketed down for a short period during the game, shortly after halftime, but when the game started the players were kicking water as they ran through puddles.
What was required to win was a strong tight-phase platform and a good kicking game, and that was what the Stormers provided.
They drove strongly in the early stages, which was when they established a bridgehead against their neighbours from Port Elizabeth, with two penalties in the first 10 minutes propelling the hosts into a 6-0 lead that was valuable in the conditions.
Initially the superior self-belief and driving play of the Stormers looked like it might be too much for the Kings, who struggled to slow the Stormers’ ball down.
But as the match progressed so the Kings began to find their feet and fight their way back into it. George Whitehead kicked a penalty after a quarter of an hour to close the deficit to three points, and that was how it stayed until halftime.
Whitehead started at flyhalf for the Kings as first choice Demetri Catrakilis was forced to withdraw at the 11th hour with a calf injury. So in the end neither of the two players that most Cape fans were looking forward to seeing return to Newlands ended up playing, with Luke Watson withdrawing with flu earlier in the week.
Considering the conditions, both teams deserve credit for how they tried to play, but the driving maul was always going to be the most likely source of profit when it came to try-scoring.
And that was how it proved, with the Stormers effectively wrapping up the match with a quarter of an hour remaining as Deon Fourie dotted down off a rare drive that the Kings couldn’t cope with.
Up until then the Kings had done remarkably well to check the Stormers' big men, but the try eased them into a 19-6 lead – they had been leading 12-6 as Pietersen kicked two and Whitehead one in the third quarter – which in those conditions was always going to be a winning advantage.
CHARACTER AND FIGHTING SPIRIT
But full marks to the Kings for once again showing the character and fighting spirit that has been the hallmark of their play this season.
Wimpie van der Walt dotted down off a drive after 73 minutes, and then they stormed straight back onto the attack and were camping on the Stormers' line in the last minutes of the game.
The Stormers, as is their wont, were strong defensively and marginally won the collisions against a team that competed well, but the Stormers got it right by spending most of the match playing in the right areas of the field.
Apart from his goalkicking (he missed one out of six kicks at goal in tough conditions) Pietersen was on the mark with tactical kicking, and the Stormers' back three played a big part in paving the way for a win that doesn’t too materially impact on their log position, which sees them locked in 10th/11th position with the Sharks on 38 points.
As Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers said afterwards, a win is a win, but it won’t be remembered as a great match. But realistically what more could you expect in the middle of the first big storm of the Cape winter?
DHL Stormers - Try: Deon Fourie. Conversion: Joe Pietersen. Penalties: Pietersen (4).
Southern Kings – Try: Wimpie van der Walt. Penalties: George Whitehead (2).