Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Johannesburg - The sight of their captain Schalk Burger being driven away from the field on a cart was the last thing the DHL Stormers needed in their first Vodacom Super Rugby match of the season, but stand-in skipper Jean de Villiers might have been truthful when he played the moment down afterwards.
“Obviously we will miss Schalk, but to do well in this competition you need to have 35 to 40 players capable of playing at the level, and we feel we have that,” said De Villiers.
In other words, the loss of Burger might not be felt as badly as it might have been had he been ruled out at a similar stage a few years back. The injury is not as bad as might have been feared when he was helped onto the buggy early in the 39-26 win over the Hurricanes. He has twisted medial ligaments in his left knee, and will be back in the game six weeks from now.
That does mean he will miss some important dates on the Stormers calendar, not least of them being the immediate challenge posed by the massive derby match against the Sharks this coming Saturday. However, De Villiers may remember that the Stormers scored an important win without Burger in the team last year.
The flanker was only watching from the sidelines when the Cape team broke a long drought at Loftus by outplaying the Bulls. And he was also absent for some other notable wins early in the campaign in 2011. The problem of course is that the Stormers have already lost Francois Louw from last year’s team, so fetching is a potential problem as the Stormers prepare to face a team that has Keegan Daniel and Bismarck du Plessis in it, but Siya Kolisi was good with his ball carrying when he came on as a replacement against the Hurricanes.
“Unfortunately we’ve lost the captain, but I must give credit to the leadership of the team,” said coach Allister Coetzee after the game.
“In the past we’ve lost captains and things went pear-shaped (the first game of the 2009 campaign against the Sharks when De Villiers was injured). We’ve got a lot of young players in the side, but I was really satisfied with the way the senior players took control. We were pleased with that win.”
But while a 13 point win first up may seem a good reason for the Stormers to be smiling, they are going to have to shift a gear if they hope to complete a similar result against the Sharks. For the truth is the Stormers, outside of the driving maul that has been their staple for the past year or two and is responsible for a big proportion of the tries they score, were far from convincing.
Peter Grant is on his way back from Japan but it may require more than the influence of Grant to get the attacking game to function. And for long periods of the Hurricanes match the Stormers kick-chase was woeful.
Indeed, their opponents were woeful, with the no-name brand Hurricanes looking every bit deserving of that tag in the first half until they were galvanized into action by the momentum offered by a good first try to Tim Bateman when they were down to 14 men.
The Stormers forwards forced the Hurricanes into error, and Joe Pietersen, kicking like a metronome, punished the visitors by contributing 21 points, but the factors that aligned themselves in the Stormers favour – referee Marius Jonker did rule every 50/50 call to the Stormers – might not be so friendly next time.
When they were 23-9 up shortly before halftime and had an advantage in numbers after Jonker had turned the match into a version of musical chairs, with the Hurricanes players coming on and off the field as the yellow cards were flashed, the Stormers should have put the opposition away.
Instead they were allowed back into the game to the extent that they could have fallen behind in the 62nd minute had TMO Shaun Veldsman ruled in the Hurricanes’ favour when they crossed beneath the uprights. It might have been a very different game then and against this opposition the Stormers really had no right to be in danger of losing.
That said, it was the first match of the season, and the 13 point winning margin was the biggest of the weekend, which is why the Stormers ended round one on top of the log. How meaningful that log is though is something we will know more of this coming weekend.