Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The Stormers have not only dramatically resurrected their own Super Rugby 2015 ambitions, but given tottering South African rugby as a whole a timely shot in the arm.
As it happened: Waratahs v Stormers
In a collectively committed, intelligent and stamina-laden performance in Sydney on Saturday, the tourists rocked the defending champion Waratahs to their foundations, not only beating them by an emphatic 32-18 margin, but simultaneously banking a rare four-try bonus point.
Even if the advantage was perhaps only going to last for a few hours, the Stormers shot back to the top of the SA conference.
Both Newlands fans and broad-minded neutrals back home who wish the best for all our sides in the competition would have rightly revelled in the famous victory, coming so soon after seeing the Sharks, for instance, blown to smithereens at home by last year’s runners-up the Crusaders last weekend.
The game marked the Stormers’ breaking of a nine-match losing streak abroad, which must have been starting to irk an outfit previously renowned - since the days of Alan Solomons as head coach – for touring pretty comfortably.
Allister Coetzee’s charges had surrendered both games on the current tour in New Zealand, lost all four abroad last year, and had won only the first of their quartet in 2013 when they pipped the Hurricanes 18-16 at Palmerston North on April 26.
This fifth triumph from eight fixtures this season, but first in four, drags the Stormers right back into the playoffs frame and they will look even better set for a productive run-in back on more familiar soil if they end the Australia leg with “maximum” by seeing off the weaker Force in Perth next Saturday (13:45 SA time).
Against a ‘Tahs team renowned for its hefty specimens both among the pack and in the backline, the visitors rediscovered their tradition in the last couple of seasons for murderous “offensive defence” that slowly sucks the life out of the opposition challenge and forces error after error from them.
It was very much as a result of bloody-minded, blanket tackling by troops both large and small that the Stormers were put in a position to streak away for some thrilling tries engineered from fairly deep in their own territory or at least a considerable way out.
The cherry on top was the sometimes unfairly maligned - for his unavoidable lack of height and kilos - Cheslin Kolbe sprinting clear on the counter late on to secure the full house in log points.
Fullback Kolbe had been as perseverant as other less physically gifted Stormers players like acting captain Juan de Jongh and Demetri Catrakilis in keeping brawn-filled Waratahs attacks at bay, whilst crucially keeping a devilish peripheral eye on chances to counter-strike.
De Jongh and his electric partner Damian de Allende were probably responsible for the premier all-round midfield performance of the season by a South African franchise pair: it was fitting that they combined awesomely for the third try on the night, De Allende breaking some tackles to cross the whitewash after a fingertips poach by De Jongh that had to be seen to be believed for its control.
As for the Stormers pack, they fronted up as staunchly as many believed they would to their respected counterparts, and there was no individual better than Eben Etzebeth.
The fiery Springbok No 4 lock set the tone for the kind of constructive bother he was going to cause all game with a steal at the first Waratahs lineout throw-in from under the nose of Dave Dennis, and then his athletic motor kicked in wonderfully as well.
Etzebeth smashed into clean-outs with relish, made decisive tackles and was always willing to pop up in wide positions on defence, mindful that players like Kolbe and Dillyn Leyds were likely to be severely tested by home-town juggernauts.
The Stormers also made sure, in a game where they oozed composure near-ceaselessly, that they didn’t become flustered by such setbacks as Nizaan Carr (still not faultless, through much closer to his 2014 best here) and Manuel Carizza having to visit the blood bin for significant respective spells.
It was also not ideal seeing Michael Rhodes limp off in obvious pain in the 33rd minute with another knee injury - the franchise are already a quality blindsider down with Rynhardt Elstadt on the long-term crocked list.
On the plus side, loose forward depth remains reasonably healthy with Duane Vermeulen back as soon as they get home, Siya Kolisi also regaining his mojo and Schalk Burger simply an unstoppable workhorse with increasing hand skills to match that benefit to the cause.
The Stormers will be mightily disappointed if they fail to transport this fresh momentum onward to Perth ...
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