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
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
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.
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