If the magnitude of the task facing him had not occurred to Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus, it should have dawned on him during the flight back to Cape Town this morning.
Charged with returning the Cape side to their halcyon days of “The Men in Black”, Erasmus has had to endure his rebuilding side’s agonising losses to last year’s Vodacom Super 14 finalists, the Bulls, and then the Sharks last night.
Simnikiwe Xabanisa writes in the Sunday Times that the reward for brave performances is an encounter against last year’s semifinalists, the Crusaders, who have won the tournament six times, and gave an ominous performance against defending champions the Bulls on Friday night.
And as if that weren’t enough, they now embark on their tour of Australasia. Talk about a tournament that might end before it has begun.
This was not quality rugby, but low-scoring games can turn into gripping affairs. And so it was with this clash, with the Sharks’ experience at closing out a tight game telling in the end.
To use a tennis analogy, the Sharks played the big points better in a pressured second half — and were helped by the sin-binning of two of the Stormers.
“They have been together for three years and we’re just starting to settle,” Erasmus said after the match, “That’s the angle I’d rather look at it from.”
The approach of the two sides to the match could not have been more different.
Mindful of the talk about Durban’s stifling heat and oppressive humidity, the Stormers were tentative and treated the ball with apprehension.
The Sharks, especially flyhalf Frederic Michalak, were confident and sought to spray it about.
Yet it was the Stormers who scored first when a quick lineout between hooker Tiaan Liebenberg and Ricky Januarie resulted in a try for the scrumhalf in the 23rd minute.
Until then, the Sharks had dominated most facets of the game. In the scrums, Zimbabwean Beast Mtawarira won the front-row battle against Stormers tighthead Brian Mujati.
It was the same story in the lineouts and the Stormers found it difficult to defend against a Sharks rolling maul without conceding a penalty.
One area, however, where the Stormers had parity was at the breakdown.
Accused of presenting both cheeks against the Bulls last weekend, the Stormers rectified that by gang-tackling the Sharks’ ball-carriers, which prevented quick ball for the hosts.
There is a simple reason why the Stormers went into halftime in the lead — the approach of the two flyhalves.
Playing in his debut Super 14 match, Michalak brought his whole bag of tricks, which included exquisite reverse passes and deft little chip kicks.
Not to knock the sheer entertainment he promises to bring to the Sharks game, the problem was that it was all a bit too far from the advantage line.
The Stormers’ Peter Grant, by contrast, plays his rugby at the business edge of the game and is therefore more effective.
For all their tenacity , the Stormers undermined their efforts through lack of discipline — flanker Schalk Burger and replacement centre Dylan des Fountain were sin-binned in the second half.
Given the low-scoring nature of the game, the three penalties conceded as a result of the team’ s indiscretions proved fatal to their challenge.
The Sharks can count themselves lucky to have edged this one, but what must be weighing heavily on their coach’s mind is just how sloppy they have been with the possession they have had in their first two matches.
Sharks 12 — Penalties: Ruan Pienaar, Rory Kockott (3).
Stormers 10 — Try: Ricky Januarie. Conversion: Peter Grant. Penalty: Grant.Tweet