Some element of hostility was extremely discernible at times, but if it ruffled Luke Watson then he did anything but show it.
Rob Houwing writes for Sport 24 that indeed, the Stormers No 8 took the opportunity in the first serious run-out of the season to offer strong candidacy for player-of-the-match status, should one have been awarded for the friendly against English Premiership outfit Saracens at Newlands on Sunday.
The home side prevailed satisfactorily enough in a lively toss-around, registering six tries to three en route to a 43-33 score-line before a sun-soaked crowd in excess of 25 000.
Jean de Villiers’ team led 24-16 at the break and an encouraging feature of their otherwise understandably ragged — yet sporadically very thrust-laden — showing was their ability to strike back and retain “daylight” at times when the tourists appeared to be getting dangerous spurts of second wind.
Sarries stayed keenly in the picture from a scoreboard point of view primarily because Glen Jackson’s placekicking was deadeye stuff, the fly-half achieving seven out of seven with four penalties (clearly they had not made the long haul for pure festival purposes!) and three conversions.
Let’s face it, one of the enticing lead-up features of this fixture was the opportunity to gauge just how much crowd affection Watson would have lost after his controversial off-season comments around the Springbok jersey and, apparently, certain sectors of our society.
By Sunday’s evidence, some – but not an awful lot. After all, 30 or 40 people in a specific area of a stadium jeering together with zeal can sound deceptively like thousands at times.
And there was applause aplenty, too, whenever Watson contributed constructively, which was for at least three-quarters of this game until it got truly chaotic and sloppy in the closing minutes.
Eyebrows were raised when Rassie Erasmus, that similarly singular fellow who will not be influenced by peripheral sentiment, named what seemed a slightly bum-about-face starting loose trio with Watson (debatably still best suited to open-sider) at eight, newcomer Duane Vermuelen at seven instead of his own more customary ex-Cheetahs slot of eight, and blindsider Francois Louw at six.
But the coach believes in loose forwards being horses for all courses and Watson grabbed the opportunity to excel in a broad array of facets.
He was responsible for a few turnovers, tackled with the sort of commitment that will come in handy when the Stormers open their Super 14 campaign against the Sharks at the same venue in three weeks, and was a good link-man too, being handily at the shoulder of Ricky Januarie to round off a try-scoring move after the nuggety scrumhalf altered his angle and broke and jinked beautifully from outside the Sarries 22.
Of course room is going to have to be made for Schalk Burger for the cracking coastal derby. On Sunday’s evidence, the first Stormers loose trio for the Super 14 may well be Burger at No 6 and Watson No 8 (normal service from last campaign), with Louw and Vermeulen then fighting it out for the right to the blind-side job.
Whatever your thoughts on Watson, he is a self-motivated individual whose own game may even blossom in the face of the boo-boys’ onslaught.
I suppose the acid test of his ability to live with the knockers will be when the Stormers travel to the highveld, where acceptance may be in altogether shorter supply.
But for the time being only the terminally jaundiced would endeavour to suggest that he didn’t kick off 2009 playing rather good rugby …Tweet