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
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
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.
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