Modern rugby is about either slowing down opposition ball or getting your own possession back quickly, and this being so, the Stormers were on a hiding to nothing before they even took the field for this Super 14 clash with the log leaders last night.
Gavin Rich, Cape Times.
Hard though the inexperienced Stormers back-row tried, and all three of the starters, none more so than Robbie Diack, turned in committed performances, the locals were hopelessly outgunned when it came to the pain-in-the-butt factor from opposition provided by a class pair of fetching loose-forwards.
And when it was confirmed in the final buildup to the game that Luke Watson’s unseasonal bout of ‘flu would condemn him to follow suspended Schalk Burger into a spectator’s role, any slight hope of a Stormers victory was swept away like an old ticket stub blown by the moderate southerly wind that blew throughout the match.
The Stormers should get full marks for trying, for there was nothing lacking when it came to spirit, guts and passion.
And anyone who tries to tell you there weren’t any positives to come out from a home viewpoint just fails to understand how good this Crusaders team is.
It might have been closer had Burger and Watson been present, but Crusaders are going to take some stopping this season.
The Stormers started in a rush as they swarmed all over their opponents in the first 10 minutes.
With Ricky Januarie in a particularly sparky mood at scrumhalf, and with Peter Grant looking both more direct and confident than he was in the previous two weeks, the Stormers gave better than they got in the initial stages.
But you always got the impression that the hosts had to score early for a morale-boosting lead if they were going to have any chance of winning.
That is what happened two years ago, when a De Wet Barry intercept in the opening minute set the Stormers on the road to a memorable victory.
There was no such slice of luck for the Stormers last night, however, and the classy Crusaders outfit always looked poised and composed in repelling the Stormers, just as they had been when the Bulls took a 12-0 lead the previous week.
It was at the breakdown points though that the tell-tale signs were already showing, even when the Stormers had the crowd living in hope.
Everyone loves talking about the physicality of the Bulls, but when it comes to focussed physicality at the breakdown points, where no unnecessary energy is expended at the collisions, then the Crusaders undeniably reign supreme.
There is a lot of pace and skill at the back for Crusaders, and the rate that ball was coming back, unhindered by any spoiling from the Stormers, made it inevitable that eventually the Stormers defence would stretch beyond breaking point.
It took a while, and coach Rassie Erasmus should have been pleased that his team were only down 11-0 at half-time, and this after playing into the breeze in the first 40 minutes.
The Stormers have impressed with their defensive organisation so far this season, and they did so again.
They always seemed to be scrambling once the Crusaders had edged ahead for the first time through a Daniel Carter penalty, and yet somehow, as in the latter stages in Durban the previous week when the Sharks threatened to take control, there always seemed to be a defender present to make a last gasp cover effort that would deny the Kiwis.
That said, the Crusaders also butchered a few opportunities with uncharacteristic mistakes on attack, and on a couple of occasions the overlap situation was wasted through poor finishing.
But Carter is not a player who gets denied often, and it was early in the second half that he came up with one of those magical little touches of genius in general play that puts him on a different level to his peers.
It came by way of a cross-kick which was so well targeted that it fell perfectly into wing Sean Maitland’s hands beyond the tryline.
The first half Crusaders try had simply been a case of the Crusaders eliminating the Stormers defenders through the alacrity with which they got the ball back from the recycles, with scrumhalf Ellis going over from a loose-scrum on the right.
The Stormers had a few promising moments going into the last quarter of the game, but they were unable to get ball back as quickly as the Crusaders had when they had possession.
This was the telling difference between the teams on the night and this, plus the wizardry of Carter, is what marks the team from Christchurch as the early favourite to lift the Super 14 trophy.Tweet