Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Cape Town - The Stormers and Lions coaches and captains were mostly satisfied with what the respective teams got out of their opening Neo Africa Tri-Series match at Newlands at the weekend.
The Stormers started off the season by scoring three tries to nil in a 15-0 win over the Lions. But the try-count and the scoreline didn’t really tell the full story of a match in which the Johannesburg team were more than competitive and in which they were repeatedly only denied by bad luck and a typically well organized and determined Stormers defensive effort.
The Stormers scored tries early in each half, and their third one only came after the hooter in one of those situations where both teams were fully committed to all-out attack which made another try almost an inevitability.
That said, that last effort was a well rounded off try for the Stormers that was a long time in coming in what was a typical pre-season match which never rose to any heights as a spectacle and in which both teams struggled to find accuracy in their attacking game.
Of the two, the Stormers were more co-ordinated on attack and they made better use of their opportunities in a game where they were shaded in the battle for possession.
But as both coach Allister Coetzee and skipper Schalk Burger reminded the media afterwards, they have been busy mostly with the conditioning phase to the build-up to the new season up to now, so they weren’t expecting a great deal from the technical and tactical elements of the game.
“We start our Super Rugby season a week after everyone else and have only recently started to think about the technical strategy aspects so I was pleased with the win and how we attained it,” said Burger.
Coetzee was delighted with the defensive effort, with the Lions not being able to make any impression even though they won the major share of possession. It was the second consecutive match the Lions have played at Newlands without conceding a point, but Lions coach John Mitchell is not too concerned about that statistic.
“These pre-season games don’t mean much in terms of results, as was shown last season,” said Mitchell.
“I coached the Western Force in this competition last year, and in our opening game we were given a 50 point thrashing by the Stormers. But then when we played them in the Super 14 league match in Perth, we beat them. So it really doesn’t mean much and for us it is all about getting ready for 19 February.”
That is the day the Lions see their first action of the Super Rugby season, but the Stormers only make their seasonal debut in the competition the following week. As that game will be against the self-same Lions, it was important for the Stormers to win the warm-up fixture as it means they at least retain their good recent Newlands record against the Johannesburg team.
With the main emphasis just being on getting the players battle hardened for the new season, Mitchell was right to also draw encouragement from the opening fixture of 2011.
“We are clearly a lot better off in our conditioning than we were last year and I was pleased with how strong we remained throughout the game,” said Mitchell.
The New Zealander lauded the Lions for their defensive game, which certainly is a good couple of levels above where it was this time last year. He should also have been pleased with his team’s scrumming, and predictably that, along with the lineouts, was one of the areas of concern for Coetzee.
“We are going to have to work on the scrum and get it back to where it was last year,” said the Stormers coach.