They will be the first to admit they can play a lot better but the DHL Stormers will nonetheless be rightly pleased with the hard-fought 18-16 Vodacom Super Rugby win they scored over the Hurricanes in Palmerston North on Friday.
The match was as close as the scoreline will suggest, and if the Hurricanes coaches want to pretend they are naïve they might try and cover themselves by pointing out that they played more rugby than their opponents. But that was always going to be the case, and the Stormers never made any bones of the fact before they left Cape Town that to beat the Hurricanes they were going to have to play it tight.
The Hurricane may have made a mistake by kicking as much as they did in the early stages, but then their territory oriented game of the first 35 minutes might well have paid off were it not for the way the strong Stormers defensive effort kept them at bay when the Hurricanes were in the strike-zone. Beauden Barrett certainly kicked well out of hand as he used the strong wind behind his back to keep the Stormers pinned in their own territory.
However, later in the game the penny seemed to drop for the Hurricanes, who once they had the temerity to carry the ball at their opponents actually started to expose rare vulnerabilities in the Stormers’ normally impregnable defensive system. The Stormers were forced to make twice as many tackles as the Hurricanes, and it would be fair to say defence won them the game, but at the same time they also slipped a lot more tackles than they are used to doing.
Both Hurricanes tries exploited mistakes in the Stormers’ defensive system as players took the wrong line near their own tryline, and with the Blues up as the next opponents in Albany next week, coach Allister Coetzee and defence coach Jacques Nienaber may be a bit concerned at the momentum that the Hurricanes were allowed to pick up carrying the ball at the Stormers in the second half.
The Stormers got it right though for they did dominate the territory battle when the wind was behind them in the second half, and it enabled them to turn over an 11-7 half-time deficit as they camped most of the period in Hurricanes territory.
The Stormers started the game slowly, with Barrett getting his team into an early 3-0 lead before a good scrumming effort from the Stormers forced a penalty that was missed by Joe Pietersen. But while the scrumming was okay, the early lineout play was again disturbing, with two of the first three throws being over-throws.
The first was when the Stormers were in a rare (for the first half) attacking position and were looking to launch, so it was an opportunity wasted, and the second almost gifted the Hurricanes a try as Deon Fourie’s throw fell into the hands of home lock Jason Eaton, who fortunately for the Cape team could only knock it on.
At that stage the Stormers were extremely strong in the tackle and dominating the collisions, which may explain why the Hurricanes persisted in kicking until they fell behind late in the half. Barrett had pushed the Hurricanes’ advantage to six points when the Stormers started to perfect their lineout mauling, something they did with devastating effect only to be thwarted by some cynical professional fouling by the Hurricanes.
The first time it happened the Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush was yellow carded by referee Steve Walsh, but he should probably have waved another yellow card when Jean de Villiers opted to set up another lineout rather than go for posts and the Stormers swarmed all over the Hurricanes again.
Ben Franks had been involved in an early punching incident that led to a Stormers penalty and was probably lucky to stay on the field as he was at the heart of several incidents. When the Stormers were held up on the line a third time, Franks was the culprit in bringing the maul down, but all Walsh did was issue him a warning.
As the Stormers set the lineout for the fourth time in as many minutes for the driving maul the situation was heading towards penalty try territory – certainly when the first professional foul was committed it looked as though a Stormers try was inevitable – but instead of relying on Walsh, this time the Stormers powered over the line for Michael Rhodes to dot down.
Pietersen made up for his earlier penalty miss by slotting the conversion that gave his team a morale boosting 7-6 lead. It was confidence raising from the viewpoint that the Stormers had very little of the game to that point and were playing into a strong wind.
But that was when the Hurricanes opted to carry the ball rather than kick, with the forwards battering their way up into the Stormers half and the backs also carrying the ball strongly before eventually a long but sharp and well directed Barrett pass across the Stormers defence put debutant Matt Proctor in for the try.
It was a kickable conversion but Bryan Habana managed the rare feat of charging it down, something that the commentators returned to a few times later in the game when it was so close.
A Pietersen penalty early in the second half cut the Stormers’ deficit to one point, and then in the 53rd minute he kicked another to regain the lead for his team. The Hurricanes were far from finished though and they struck back immediately through a try to fullback Andre Taylor, with the off-load and individual Stormers players coming out of line in the strike-zone being the contributing factors.
Barrett missed his second conversion attempt of the match so when a strong surge off the back of an attacking scrum and then a good short pass from Duane Vermeulen put Gio Aplon in for the Stormers’ second try, it put them back into what was to prove a winning lead even though Pietersen horribly fluffed the conversion.
A strong Stormers scrum that turned over the opposition ball near the hooter effectively wrapped up the game for the Stormers, who also had some good lineout poaches from De Kock Steenkamp to thank for their second half superiority over a team that did indeed play more rugby but lost the tactical game.
Hurricanes - Tries: Matt Proctor, Andre Taylor. Penalties: Beauden Barrett (2).
DHL Stormers - Tries: Michael Rhodes, Gio Aplon. Conversion: Joe Pietersen. Penalties: Pietersen (2).