Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The Stormers may have largely retreated into their “demon defence” comfort zone in a second half once more, but senior personnel insist after the latest victory that grander goals remain firmly on course.
It is hard to seriously fault that logic, as they returned to top spot on the overall Super Rugby table following their 19-13 triumph over the Waratahs in Week 13 at Newlands on Saturday, despite a promising first 40 minutes of high-tempo and occasionally very creative play rather wilting once more into a slog-it-out mode to secure the win without a bonus point.
“There should only be one half,” coach Allister Coetzee
quipped at the press briefing afterwards.
“But we are satisfied with the win; another hard-fought battle out there and again like a Test match. It’s the nature of the competition ... you’ve got to make sure you grind out your wins.
“Conditions were quite nice in the first half, nice and dry, and there was a big improvement in our attack. I was pleased with what I saw, and we roll on in the competition, making sure we win first.
“It’s not the final product yet and we still have work to do. The plans is working: 10 wins from 11 games, a Vodacom Cup side that is successful, winning it for the first time in 11 years, so it says a lot about the structures here in Western Province.
“It’s about moving forward as a franchise and union, and don’t under-estimate the depth we’ve created. It augurs well.”
Coetzee praised his troops for their customary defensive polish and the fact that “our physical game was right up there” on the chilly night.
“We made some pretty big hits on them and Eben (Etzebeth) was outstanding again tonight, and also another youngster like Steven Kitshoff who has been playing 80 minutes throughout the competition. Frans Malherbe made a big impact when he came on, too.”
Both the coach and captain Jean de Villiers admitted that the resurgent Sharks posed a major threat in a mouth-watering Durban derby next Saturday (19:10).
“The Sharks game is a massive clash against a quality side - they just got five points away to the Cheetahs which shows that,” said Coetzee.
As for Springbok centre De Villiers, he defiantly reminded Sport24 upon inquiry that if the Sharks have been on a healthy roll of late, “so have we”.
“I’m very happy with the performance today. The way we played in the first half was good; then there was a lapse in concentration soon after halftime with two players going out of structure on defence and allowing a try.
“Rain came down in the second half and we adapted to it with our kicking game. It was a better performance than last week (against the Cheetahs at the same venue) -- we handled the ball a lot more tonight, so things are heading in the right direction.
“We didn’t see the latest (Sharks) game, obviously, but they’re probably the team that’s impressed me the most in the last couple of weeks and a team playing with a lot of momentum and confidence and that’s dangerous.
“We’re under no illusions about what we face next week, a massive battle.”
Meanwhile Waratahs coach Michael Foley told Sport24 he felt the Stormers should remain strong contenders for the silverware.
“I think so; they have a very good squad. The set-piece is good, and their halves control the game well.
“Margins are especially fine at the sharp end of the tournament and the Stormers know how to win close matches; they’ve got to have a good shout.”*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing