Stormers’ guts to come at price

    2014-03-08 12:24

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – As if they didn’t know it already, the Stormers may be about to discover the cruelty and injustice in life.

    Their “reward” for putting bodies on the line, arguably like never before, at Heartbreak Hotel – otherwise known as Christchurch, New Zealand – is a challenging six-day turnaround to the second match of their Super Rugby overseas leg, against defending champions the Chiefs on Friday (08:35 SA time).

    It is not what they deserved after coming desperately, heroically close on Saturday to toppling seven-time winners the Crusaders in their own backyard for the first time.

    As late as the 74th minute, the Capetonians – written off by many as genuine title contenders this year after several prior ones of consistent competitiveness – clung to a narrow lead against their All Black-laden foes, but then Tom Taylor’s comfortably-goaled penalty nosed the ‘Saders 14-13 in front and that was the way the scoreboard stayed.

    So a losing bonus point was meagre consolation for Jean de Villiers’s troops, who produced one of those performances of murderous, thunderous commitment on defence for which they are renowned.

    Yes, some might say “too renowned”: it takes a special physical toll, and the downside may very well come into play when they move onward to Hamilton and, now with a precarious one win from three starts, must try to get themselves freshened for truly high-level battle all over again.

    Of course this was typical of the Crusaders, too – the legendary side had lost their first two games in another dozy start, but eking out this one may be just the catalyst they required for a surge up the table.

    Coach Allister Coetzee and his lieutenants will greatly rue missed opportunities by the tourists to put the game to bed and thus celebrate a momentous triumph: De Villiers seemed to think he scored a try when he dotted the ball at the base of the right upright on one occasion, only for an element of doubt on television evidence to questionably over-rule it.

    There was also an open-side move where fullback Jaco Taute, who may have significantly damaged a shoulder as he fell to the turf in a tackle, didn’t off-load to right wing Kobus van Wyk when the big youngster might very well have powered over.

    And with the sands of time running out, substitute loose forward Nizaam Carr had a mazy run where just one extra swerve or sidestep ought to have brought whoops of delight among the Stormers’ camp and a decisive touchdown.

    We got confirmation that for all the doubters and dissenters this season, one thing the Stormers have not surrendered is their spirit -- it was apparent throughout a tense, enthralling contest.

    Various individuals came to light in a major way, perhaps none more so than veteran blindside flank Schalk Burger, who was playing his first game of any kind in New Zealand since the 2011 World Cup.

    The blond bomber, sporting a golfball-sized bump on his right cheekbone from very early on but typically making light of it, was back to his relentless best for mongrel, energy and work-rate and earned the rich admiration of local commentators like Justin Marshall for it.

    Not far behind in the loose trio was Deon Fourie, who used his speed and low centre of gravity to fine effect and was productive at breakdowns as well as in grim last-ditch defence when it was badly needed.

    This was also the Stormers’ most effective second-row combination of the campaign thus far, as Michael Rhodes and the returning workhorse De Kock Steenkamp did their own bit to try to make history.

    They benefited in addition from a sprightly service at scrumhalf from tenacious Nic Groom, which gave midfielders Damian de Allende (going from strength to strength in all respects at No 12) and skipper De Villiers just a tad more scope for front-foot trickery: the latter set up the former for the Stormers’ only try with a beautifully-weighted dink ahead.

    The big question for Coetzee now is to weigh up exactly how to approach the hazardous Chiefs date: the Mooloo Men, remember, will be coming off the very contrasting advantage of a bye on Friday.

    Does he try to throw the kitchen sink with his best personnel once more, in the quest to rise from the more nether regions of the overall log, or field some greenhorns at the outset at Waikato Stadium and in that way rejuvenate certain senior soldiers for the Australian leg (Brumbies, Reds)?

    This was branded a “tour from hell” even before it started, and for a long time in Christchurch the Stormers got a healthy scent of paradise instead.

    But unless there is some smart strategic thinking for the remaining three fixtures abroad, a fiery pit could still – and maybe unjustifiably – beckon.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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