Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Seasoned Springbok centre and acting Stormers captain Jean de Villiers doesn’t miss too many tricks, and can be just as proficient in the wisecrack department.
“We’ve got 12 points after only playing two matches,” he gleefully noted at the press conference following Saturday night’s typically unsubtle, all-penalties and frankly often painful Super Rugby derby victory for his franchise over the Sharks at Newlands.
De Villiers was referring, of course, to the fact that the Stormers have a week-three bye next weekend in the competition, which means four additional points will be handed to them on a plate to add to the eight they have gathered already for eking out successive wins over the Hurricanes and then their big coastal rivals.
It all adds up to a smooth enough start to 2012 hostilities - certainly in log terms - by last season’s best-performing South African outfit, despite mostly still lacking sparkle and mixing now-traditional efficiency and defensive discipline with fits of imprecision and over-eagerness.
This is roughly how they began last season as well, so coach Allister Coetzee
and company probably regard that as a pretty good sign, considering how that campaign gradually built an impressive head of steam.
“Whether you regard it as a case of getting out of jail or not, it’s a fantastic win for us,” enthused Coetzee, clearly a defiant believer in outcome eclipsing execution for importance in the ever-more-gruelling arena of Super Rugby.
“We’ve always known the Sharks are quality, and they certainly pitched tonight. They threw the kitchen sink.
“We were taken to a dark place at times, but responded, and that’s the (important thing).
“Two or three years ago this was the type of match where I reckon we would have ended up losing.”
His charges instead ground out a 15-12 victory from a halftime deficit against the depleted but fired-up and sometimes unusually expansive Sharks, substitute flyhalf Peter Grant’s tricky late penalty from the left touchline ultimately separating the sides.
“I just said to him ‘Bashy, good luck matey’ as he prepared to take the kick,” De Villiers revealed. “And that’s experience for you (the way he landed it).”
Following another scrappy match - the Hurricanes game had also been high on endeavour but low on composure and quality - it is tempting to believe there may be some mixed feelings in the Stormers camp about having a break next weekend before they contemplate the visit from New Zealand of the highly-touted but currently struggling Blues.
After all, there is a case for saying they lose an opportunity to iron out certain flaws in a match situation, and to possibly build further momentum results-wise.
But Coetzee welcomes it.
“The bye helps, I believe. We had a big pre-season, both in terms of conditioning and (friendly match itinerary) and there are already some niggles to deal with, so a break is OK.”
Both captain and coach were quick to laud the performances of several rookies in their ranks, especially as they began to turn some forward screws fairly impressively in the final quarter after playing second fiddle in possession and territorial terms in the first half.
They pointed out that the Stormers closed out the match with several players in their pack who are not long out of their teens, including Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth and Siya Kolisi.
All shone at various times during the game, with the prop combination of Kitshoff and substitute tighthead Malherbe producing some vital, big scrummaging heaves late on, Etzebeth confirming his relish for some “gun-smoke” in the tight-loose and Kolisi putting in strong tackles and fine general industry about the park.
De Villiers said it was a pleasure seeing so many young players come to the fore in a tight encounter, regardless of the error count in his team’s play, and also for retaining their composure after a first period in which they came under the cosh.
“The message at halftime was that we were only three points behind after they’d (the Sharks) created most of the play; so we could certainly (find a way back).”
After the Blues game in a fortnight, the Stormers face the Lions in Johannesburg and the presently buoyant Bulls back home before departing on their overseas tour.*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing