Stormers arrive at the races

    2013-03-10 08:43

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town - Never mind that it was a heart-stopper for the 37 000-strong Newlands crowd.

    All that will matter from a Stormers point of view is that their Super Rugby 2013 campaign is up and running after two prior botched attempts to light the fire.

    Saturday’s 36-34 rollercoaster ride to victory against the Chiefs was a critical outcome for them: had they gone nought from three in their “early draw from hell” this year, then even at this fledgling stage of a competition that has gradually morphed into a marathon, topping the South African conference again at the end of ordinary season would have become a tall order.

    VIDEO: Stormers v Bulls, highlights

    But it seems a rather more feasible prospect again, given the four points banked against the title-holders, of whom home-town captain Jean de Villiers was rightly moved afterwards to observe: “These guys are not the champs for nothing.”

    The Chiefs certainly adopted a disarmingly bold, fearless approach to the fixture, and every time the Stormers looked as though they might just take the game away, they would come roaring right back.

    At least the troops from Hamilton, who may have felt slightly aggrieved at times by certain decisions against them at key moments from referee Jaco Peyper, would not have been too mortified about the outcome - they may have surrendered their first game in three, but took away two useful bonus points, including by outscoring the hosts by four tries to three.

    And in the final analysis, perhaps justice was just about served: the Stormers dug suitably deep for this one, and it also has to be remembered that they were always the team in front.

    They have a timely opportunity now to regroup and freshen up, with a bye weekend ahead before they contemplate the challenge of Australian high-riders the Brumbies, again at Newlands.

    While the side from Canberra have started the season with a flourish, and Jake White’s intimate knowledge of the South African rugby culture will be useful once more on their two-match tour of these shores, they will confront the Stormers straight after a tough outing against the similarly unbeaten Sharks in Durban next Saturday.

    It is unlike the Capetonians, who pride themselves on polished defence, to leak four tries, so the drawing board will see at least some keen usage over the next fortnight, but offsetting that was a much more meaningful, sharper emphasis on ball-in-hand play themselves.

    The match also saw the Stormers pack, which had played second fiddle to varying extents against both the Bulls and Sharks, get onto the front foot to an infinitely more suitable degree.

    They oozed urgency in all areas of forward play, with the lineout reaching standards that marked their charge to the conference “title” last year, and some epic mauling initiatives accompanying several successive takes on their own throw.

    There was plenty of pinching of the Chiefs’ intended ball, too, with De Kock Steenkamp, one of the Stormers’ generally more unsung personnel, responsible for four or five poaches and perhaps unlucky to be pipped to the player-of-the-match mantle by more senior second-row colleague Andries Bekker.

    Another crucial reason why the home team eked out this satisfying result was the rediscovery of his 2012 mojo by promising flanker Siya Kolisi.

    The 21-year-old from Zwide in the Eastern Cape had been relatively quiet by his standards on the open side in early season; he appeared to be feeling his way back a little tentatively from his months-long injury layoff last year.

    That situation came to a happy halt against the Chiefs: Kolisi was back as a constant “presence” in close-quarters combat and his renaissance had an inspiring effect on his colleagues in the loose trio, Rynhardt Elstadt and Duane Vermeulen.

    This was undoubtedly also the best game of the three so far by another Stormers young-gun, inside centre Damian de Allende, who took a couple of excellent gaps or half-gaps and produced some deft off-loads, into the bargain.

    It may create a pleasant little dilemma for coach Allister Coetzee, if slippery Springbok Juan de Jongh is passed fit for consideration for the Brumbies match after his niggling hamstring problem, which would allow skipper De Villiers to return to his preferred No 12 jersey.

    One less desired poser over the next two and a half months - the early medical forecast for a return by Bryan Habana after his knee ligament mishap against the Chiefs - will be how to reconstruct the back three in the interim.

    Apart from one fatal lapse in catching concentration which led to a first-half try by the Waikato outfit, diminutive Joe Pietersen was gutsy and industrious at fullback, and his pinpoint place-kicking also played a very valuable role in the outcome.

    Upcountry recruit Jaco Taute’s return to full training should be imminent, and he is versatile enough to be considered either at wing or in the last line of defence, whilst Gerhard van den Heever was accomplished enough in a brief stint off the bench on Saturday to put his own hand up for a possible run of starts.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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