Gavin Rich - SuperSport
Cape Town - The Stormers are going to have to make a significant all-round improvement and deliver their first full 80 minute performance of the season if they hope to leave for New Zealand on Sunday as still the only unbeaten team in Vodacom Super Rugby.
When the Highlanders lost to the impressive Brumbies in Canberra at the weekend and the Stormers later in the day scraped home 24-19 against the Lions in Johannesburg, it confirmed the Cape side as the front runners in the competition. But three of their wins have been at home, two of them were a long way short of convincing, and in all their games there have been times when the Stormers have gone on what can best be described as a walkabout.
With the exception of the coastal derby against the Sharks, where they started slowly, the trend has been for the Stormers to be well ahead at the halfway mark and then to let the opposition back into it in the third quarter. Against the Lions it was the half hour point that coincided with the Stormers going off the boil, and the Lions, severely depleted by injury, dominated play everywhere but on the scoreboard from then on.
The Stormers deserve credit for the way they defended in the second half. They should also have pleased coach Allister Coetzee with the way they were able to retain composure under pressure and then find a bit of an extra gear heading into the final quarter, when the Lions were swarming all over them. Two visits into Lions territory were enough to force the penalties that saw them secure the win.
But any sort of honeymoon period the Stormers may have been going through over the past few weeks - most of the teams they have played against have been badly depleted - is most emphatically over this coming weekend, with the Bulls coming to Newlands for the long-awaited north/south derby fresh from a magnificent 61-8 massacre of the champion Reds.
Yes, the game was at Loftus and at altitude, and everyone knows how tough the Bulls are at home, plus the Reds are a long way short of their full-strength team at the moment. But it was nonetheless an awesome performance from Pierre Spies’ men, with the captain himself back to his very best form, that laid down a marker and sounded an ominous warning to the Stormers.
“We made it very tough on ourselves in Johannesburg, and that is something we are going to have to look at this week before the Bulls game. We became inaccurate and that nearly cost us and we need to be spot on against a team playing like the Bulls is at the moment,” said Coetzee.
The coach lauded his men for the way they hung in against the Lions, and reminded the Cape media that the Lions should never be underestimated at Coca Cola Park.
“It’s never easy there. The Lions gave a full-strength Sharks side 50 points there last year. What they do, they do really well. It was once again an outstanding defensive effort from us, and I am happy and chuffed about that aspect of our game. No 8 Nick Koster made 28 tackles.
“But while I felt that our attack was quite clinical in the beginning and our kicking game was accurate, we started making unforced errors. I don’t know if it may have been a bit of complacency creeping in when it was so easy for us in the beginning. It was a wake-up call. There was also a bit of silliness that crept in later in the game, and I am not sure what prompted (scrumhalf) Dewaldt Duvenage to tap a penalty five metres from their line (when we should have kicked for goal).
“At the same time though, the Lions guy who broke that movement down by intercepting a pass was not 10 metres back so we could so easily have scored a try there.”
It’s the second week in a row where the Stormers have opted to tap when a kick seemed the right option. Early in the match against the Blues, Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers picked up the ball and tried to run it in when everyone was expecting the Stormers to kick for posts.
The Stormers got away with it then and they got away with it against the Lions, but to beat the Bulls the decision making will have to be spot on. Although the Stormers are talking a lot about turning Newlands into a fortress last year’s games between the Stormers and Bulls were both won by the visiting team – the Stormers broke a long drought at Loftus in March and the Bulls avenged that defeat in Cape Town towards the end of the competition.