Gavin Rich - SuperSport
It wasn’t the emphatic performance and victory that some sections of the Cape media were predicting, and in the end the DHL Stormers can count themselves lucky to have got through their bruising Super Rugby coastal derby against the Sharks with a 15-12 win.
The Sharks were severely depleted but they were the team that showed most of the innovation and played most of the rugby, particularly in the first half, and there were some disturbing aspects of the Stormers performance that shouldn’t be ignored as they go forward in the competition. For a start, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the quality of their backplay and all-round attacking game requires urgent attention.
As was the case for most of last season, the Stormers backs were far too lateral on attack. And it can probably be underlined by the fact that the spot on the field where Peter Grant kicked the winning penalty two minutes from fulltime wasn’t much forward from where the big Stormers scrum that effectively won it for them had taken place seconds earlier, and yet the ball had travelled through the hands of most of their backs to get there.
But mention of Grant introduces a potential solution to the problem. For the best part of the last year there has been a game of musical chairs being enacted at flyhalf, with Grant arriving back late from Japan last season too and then being injured for a substantial and critical part of the competition. Gary van Aswegen, his understudy, was injured last year too, and it may explain why he has struggled to assert himself in the early parts of 2012.
Once Grant has played a couple of games maybe the Stormers will get their momentum up and their continuity at the back. For now though it should be concerning to Cape fans that their team has had to rely so heavily on forward grunt for two home wins that haven’t been at all convincing. What’s going to happen on the day their forwards aren’t able to force the issue as they were in the last quarter against the Sharks?
Yet it is attitude that distinguishes champion teams from also-rans, and there was plenty of that from the Stormers as the win was based around their determination. As Coetzee put it afterwards, his team simply out-lasted their coastal rivals, with the Sharks’ failures in the scrums and lineouts late in the match possibly an indication that they had been worn down.
Full marks though to young forwards Steven Kitshoff, Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi and Nick Koster for their contribution to the win, as well as to replacement prop Frans Malherbe, who was on the field in those crucial final minutes.
“You can never underestimate a Sharks side, and I thought they played really well. But I think that two years ago we would have lost this game easily,” said Coetzee afterwards.
“We were taken to a bit of a dark place on the field there, and the players responded. We had a lot of youngsters out there, players who had never been in a position where they have to close a game out and pull it off. This is a really big win for us in terms of where we want to go in this competition.”
To be fair, the Stormers might have won more easily had Joe Pietersen not missed three of four penalty attempts he was presented with in the third quarter of the match. But there was a feeling in the Sharks camp afterwards that the Stormers also benefited from the refereeing of Mark Lawrence, who awarded the Stormers 10 penalties against just one after halftime.
It was the second week in succession that the Stormers won the penalty count to a lop-sided extent and may be an indication that discipline is going to be one of their big strengths going forward. That and the never-say-die determination they exhibited in the second half.