The DHL Stormers made the Toyota Cheetahs look decidedly second rate as they ran out 28-3 victors in a Vodacom Super Rugby derby at DHL Newlands on Saturday night.
The Cheetahs are challenging for a place in the top six, and are in fact still in the top six even though they lost so heavily in Cape Town, but you wouldn’t have thought so as they struggled to cope with the greater accuracy of a Stormers team that is several places below them on the log table.
It was sweet revenge for the Stormers, who lost in agonising fashion in the first-round game in Bloemfontein, Burton Francis kicking a penalty for the Cheetahs in a match that the Stormers thought they had wrapped up.
The Cheetahs never looked like challenging once stand-in skipper Deon Fourie had dotted down off a driving lineout maul, still the most profitable method of scoring for the Stormers, four minutes before halftime to secure a 10-3 lead at the break.
That enabled the Stormers to take a lead they never relinquished, and by the end of it they were winning going away as they took complete control in the last quarter.
The win doesn’t mean that much to the Stormers in terms of making the play-offs. The team beaten on Saturday is in fact still on course for a place in the top six, thanks to the help they were given earlier in the day when the Sharks beat the Blues.
But the magnitude of their victory did underline how differently this season could have turned out for the two teams given a little more luck on the Stormers' side and a little less on that of the Cheetahs, who on this evidence don’t look anything like potential title contenders.
DRAMATIC IMPORVEMENT NEEDED
They are going to have to effect a dramatic improvement to several aspects of their play if they hope to advance from an effective quarterfinal.
Although the Stormers did bring the crowd to its feet in the last quarter hour with the two tries that put them out of sight of the Bloemfontein team, it was as exciting as watching paint dry for most of the way.
But the way to beat the Cheetahs was always going to be to deal with the chip kicks that the Cheetahs rely so heavily on for their attacking plays, and that is what the Stormers got right.
The Stormers are a team that like the opposition to kick at them, and one of the big misconceptions of South African rugby is that the Cheetahs are a team that engage a style based on running and passing.
They are an exciting team to watch, but they kick as much, if not more, than most teams – it’s just that so often those kicks bring profit in terms of players running onto them or the opposition making mistakes.
That didn’t happen yesterday, and because it didn’t, someone like Willie le Roux, who put boot to ball almost every time he touched it, was made to look ordinary.
And with the Stormers' pack fronting, and even shading the Cheetahs in several phases of play, there were just too few avenues through which the Cheetahs could score tries – and to be honest it’s hard to remember when they looked like they might score.
Their only points came through a Riaan Smit penalty in the 18th minute. They had enjoyed a telling territorial advantage in the first 10 minutes, and in the first few scrums it looked like the Stormers might be vulnerable, but it never turned out that way.
Instead the Stormers' scrummagers gave as good as they received against the more highly rated unit they were up against.
The Stormers made extensive use of the cross-kick in this match, particularly in the first half. That was understandable given that the Cheetahs had to make a late change due to an injury to fullback Hennie Daniller, and Cheetahs back-up scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius ended up playing on the wing so that Willie le Roux could switch to fullback.
It led to the rare situation where the Stormers' wings were for once playing against a wing who was smaller than they were. And on a couple of occasions they came close to making it count as most of Elton Jantjies’ kicks were pinpoint.
The Stormers were also robbed of a stalwart on the eve of the game. Tiaan Liebenberg, selected at hooker, didn’t start, and instead Scarra Ntubeni started in the No 2 jersey.
And he made a strong contribution in his first start of the season. He was a solid object in the scrums and until some way after halftime, when he finally did get one skew, his lineout throwing was accurate.
The Stormers' lineout was better than the opposition formation for most of the way, and the Cheetahs just ticked too few boxes to challenge a homeside that had flank Siya Kolisi reveling in the confidence that he had gained in his two appearances for the Springboks in recent weeks.
He deservedly won the man of the match award, but it was a day where the Stormers allround were just significantly better than their well beaten opponents.
DHL Stormers – Tries: Deon Fourie, Siya Kolisi, Bryan Habana. Conversion: Joe Pietersen (2) Penalties: Pietersen (3)
Toyota Cheetahs – Penalty: Riaan Smit.