There were two different games at Newlands yesterday, separated by an injury to Jean de Villiers that saw the inspirational Stormers captain put in a neck brace and carried off on a stretcher.
Colin Bryden writes for the Times Online that De Villiers was taken to hospital for “precautionary observation”. Coach Rassie Erasmus said early indications were that the injury was not severe.
While De Villiers was in charge the Stormers looked superb and on course for a victory to delight the majority of a crowd of 47604.
The turning point of the Vodacom Super 14 clash came in the third minute of the second half when De Villiers stayed crumpled on the turf after a try- saving, head-on tackle on opposite number Francois Steyn.
De Villiers had been in magnificent form, sparking wave after wave of attacks that threatened to run the Sharks off their feet. Instead it was the Stormers who ran out of inspiration while the visitors took control, scoring 20 points without reply before a late surge by the home team.
The Sharks forwards gradually took charge and were kept going forward by outstanding scrumhalf Rory Kockott, one of a minority of non- Boks on show in a parade of rugby stardom.
Starved of the ball in the second half, the Stormers ran out of options and were pressured into conceding a string of penalties and free kicks.
While the Sharks made an excellent start to a campaign that will surely see them as major contenders for the title, the Stormers contributed to an invigorating display by many of South African rugby’s finest players.
Springbok captain John Smit had a vigorous match, first at hooker and later at prop, Ryan Kankowski showed a splendid eye for an opening and plenty of pace, while Steyn and his more subtle centre partner Adrian Jacobs were excellent in the second half.
For the Stormers, big new No8 Duane Vermeulen was immense in the first half, although less visible when his team were on the back foot in the second half, while Peter Grant had a fine game at flyhalf.
The Sharks were first to show but their opening attack was halted when they conceded a penalty just outside the Stormers’ 22. Cheekily, given the speculation that their front row would be their weakness, the Stormers opted for a scrum.
It was a heaving, untidy mess that ended with the Sharks conceding another penalty, which this time was kicked. When the Sharks were awarded a free kick soon afterwards, they retaliated by calling a scrum of their own.
The visitors looked superior in the most basic form of the game.
The Stormers quickly showed that talk of a more expansive game this season was well-founded, with De Villiers dynamic in midfield as the home team sought to run at every opportunity, often from deep in their own 22.
Yet the Sharks could have been first to score, with Ruan Pienaar missing three penalty goal attempts in the first 14 minutes, two from long range and one from near the touchline, with kicking made tricky by a swirling wind.
One of the heralded individual battles was that of the flyhalves and both showed their skills, Grant with a robust, direct approach in which he carried the ball hard into the defenders, while Pienaar’s silky handling and eye for an opportunity was seen when his team had chances to attack.
Most of the attacking in the first half, though, was done by the Stormers and they were rewarded after 19 minutes when Odwa Ndungane’s hasty clearance from a raking kick down field by Ricky Januarie was turned into a sweeping move that ended with centre Gcobani Bobo forcing his way over for a try.
Steyn’s surging run, which ended with De Villiers’ injury, signalled a turn of tide and Kockott put the Sharks in touch with two penalty goals.
With the Stormers starting to look ragged, a free kick inside their 22 was advanced by 10m for dissent and Kankowski’s quick tap created a bullocking try for Smit.
The Stormers came back but a sweeping move from near their own tryline ended in Stefan Terblanche scoring under the posts.
The Stormers managed a late surge, with Grant forcing his way over for a try and there were some tense moments towards the end before the Sharks celebrated a notable win.
It was the 50th Stormers appearance for loose forwards Schalk Burger and Luke Watson. There was a rousing ovation for Burger when he ran out ahead of his teammates before the kick-off. Watson was booed when he came on as a blood bin replacement late in the first half.
Stormers 15 — Tries: Gcobani Bobo and Peter Grant. Conversion: Peter Grant. Penalty: Grant.
Sharks 20 — Tries: John Smit and Stefan Terblanche. Conversions: Rory Kockott (2). Penalties: Kockott (2).Tweet