Stormers beef their NZ record

    2012-03-17 11:24
    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – It will be considerably more difficult to achieve this year, but the Stormers are already nicely on course for a second crack at a clean sweep of New Zealand opposition in three years.

    Fifty percent of the job is done, after all ... Friday night’s deserved 27-17 triumph over the Blues at Newlands, added to their season-opening 39-26 result against the Hurricanes, meant that only two further teams from the Land of the Long White Cloud stand in their way because they drew a bye against the Chiefs this year under the conference system.

    The word “only” is used a little advisedly, as the remaining pair of obstacles in ordinary-season play will come in the form of tough nuts the Highlanders and Crusaders respectively – and both away, when the still-unbeaten Stormers embark on their overseas tour after two more South African derbies.

    Last season the Crusaders, of course, slightly dented the Capetonians’ happy track record by beating them twice at Newlands (once in the semi-final), so revenge will at least serve as a powerful motivator when they lock horns with the seven-time champions on April 14.

    But otherwise it has mostly been pleasingly productive for the Stormers against New Zealand foes since 2010.

    Significantly their best ever Super Rugby campaign that year, when they reached the final against the Bulls in Soweto, coincided with a fabulous feat – considering that South African wins against New Zealand outfits hardly grow on trees – of beating all NZ comers.

    They did play all five franchises then, with their scalps being, in order: Highlanders (33-0, home), Hurricanes (37-13, home), Blues (33-21, away), Chiefs (49-15, away) and the cherry on top being a particularly classy Newlands demolition of the Crusaders by 42-14.

    Quite why the Stormers have been the most compelling South African side against teams from the 2011 World Cup champion country is open to speculation.

    But it may well be at least partly because of their organisation, discipline and staunch defensive alignment – handy characteristics against men generally favouring ball-in-hand flair -- which was mostly in evidence against the Blues once more on Friday.

    This was except for a slightly disconcerting period where the visitors got a sudden second wind and registered two tries in the space of seven minutes in the second half.

    Considering that the All Blacks remain the benchmark side of world rugby at present, the Stormers continuing to offer fierce resistance to teams from there ought to also start benefiting several of their players bidding for Springbok selection under the new Heyneke Meyer regime this year, especially when New Zealand must be tackled in the former Tri-Nations now including Argentina.

    While coach Allister Coetzee would have been gratified by the rather more sprightly showings of backline stalwarts like Jean de Villiers and Bryan Habana against the Aucklanders, arguably the biggest eye-opener on the night was the continued upward curve of their scrummaging unit.

    It was a major reason why they were able to settle some butterflies, through the ranks, after the hitherto bumbling Blues unexpectedly closed the points gap to 24-17 just inside the final quarter.

    Several powerful scrums by the Stormers eight in the closing stages made it very difficult for the Blues to attack the advantage line in a quest to snatch a cheeky draw or even win, and instead a further penalty by Joe Pietersen – after a retreating Blues scrum collapsed – finally took the game right away from them.

    Flame-haired youngster Steven Kitshoff on the loose-head side showed what a prospect he is by turning around some early difficulty against Charlie Faumuina, hardly the smallest No 3 unit around, to dominate his man, whilst again the Stormers profited by taking off the hard-working Brok Harris with 20 minutes left and Frans Malherbe bringing some impressive new oomph at tighthead.

    This area of play will give them great heart going into next weekend’s meeting with Currie Cup champions the Lions in Johannesburg (Saturday, 19:10), especially as the hosts are a little thin on props at present with JC Janse van Rensburg and CJ van der Linde both sidelined.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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