There will be those who will quibble about another missed bonus point, but the Vodacom Stormers had plenty of reason to celebrate after their 20-10 win over the Brumbies at Newlands on Saturday.
The Stormers raced to a 20-0 lead after just 22 minutes and for a while it looked like carnage might be on the cards as the hosts rolled inexorably over their shocked opponents amidst the din created by 45 000 wildly ecstatic fans who have lived through a long Cape drought in the Vodacom Super 14.
Gavin Rich writes for Superrugby that at that stage it appeared the bonus point for scoring four tries was there for the taking, but it was not to be as the Brumbies, as they did against the Sharks two weeks ago, suddenly started to dominate the breakdown. The Stormers had no ball to play with in the second half, which was the cue for perhaps the finest and best organised defence in the competition to step forward.
The Brumbies did score two tries, to Adam Ashley-Cooper in the 56th minute and Mark Chisholm in the last, but by then the game had been effectively won by a team that has now won five matches in a row. When last did the Stormers manage that, if ever?
Another reason for the Stormers to be pleased was the fact that this win was scored against a team that had not lost to the Stormers as the Stormers. Their only previous defeat in Cape Town was when Dick Muir’s Western Stormers did the trick way back in 1998.
So it was no wonder that coach Rassie Erasmus was not too concerned about trivial issues like bonus points afterwards. The bottom line for the Stormers is that if they win their remaining matches, against the Waratahs at Newlands next week and the Lions at Ellis Park a week later, they will be in the semifinals, and that is where they want to be — ‘finish and klaar’.
The Stormers have momentum, and the other results on Saturday all went the Stormers way, with the Chiefs going down to the Western Force, enabling the Stormers to step back into the top four bracket, and the Waratahs losing to the Bulls at Loftus. It means that next week’s clash with the Waratahs is effectively a quarterfinal, and that is the way Erasmus wants it.
“We are on a semifinal footing now, we are playing semifinals every week, and that will help us if we get to the knockouts. The bonus points are not relevant, we are out to win. If you put too much emphasis on bonus points you can trip up,” said Erasmus.
It did look though that the Stormers would easily grab the four tries during a compelling 20 minute period when they scored as many points and effectively won the match. The first try, which came after 12 minutes, was everything we have come to expect of the Stormers class of 2008.
Hooker Schalk Brits coming off the touchline from a lineout to spear a perfect pass to Peter Grant, off whom Gcobani Bobo burst through the gap before putting his skipper through for the try.
The next quarter of an hour was as good as anything we have seen from the Stormers this season. They blanketed the Brumbies at the breakdowns, appearing to shock the Australian team with the physicality of their onslaught.
Under pressure, the Brumbies conceded penalties, which Peter Grant translated into points, while the Stormers’ passing game opened gaps through which the likes of Sireli Naqelevuki, Bobo, De Villiers and other appeared at that stage capable of pouring through almost at will.
The Stormers though were fortunate to profit from a penalty try. Apart from their being massive doubt over whether the man who was tackled without the ball when up in support of De Villiers, would have won the foot race to the tryline, it also appeared from the television replay that a foot was put on the touchline before the ball was transferred.
But it was referee Steve Walsh’s decision to go to the post and yellow card Christian Lealiifano that had the Brumbies upset. It was a 50/50 call, as was a later decision not to award a penalty try to the Brumbies when Gcobani Bobo knocked down what should have been a final try-scoring pass when the Brumbies were pressing.
The Stormers were outscored in the second half, and need to sharpen up in preparation for an 80 minute performance next week, particularly their work at the breakdown and in the set-scrums, but there was also a lot to be positive about.
Stormers 20 – Tries: Jean de Villiers, penalty try; Conversions: Peter Grant 2; Penalties: Peter Grant 2.
Brumbies 10 – Tries: Adam Ashley Cooper, Mark Chisholm.Tweet