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    Eben awakens dozy Newlands … and Stormers

    2019-02-23 22:16

    Rob Houwing - Sport24 chief writer

    Cape Town – Until Eben Etzebeth’s arrival into the fray with 26 minutes of play officially left on the clock at that point, Newlands had been an ominously subdued place on Saturday.

    One of the smallest and hitherto most muted crowds in recent memory for a first Super Rugby match of the season at the decaying venue had turned out to witness the visit of the Lions, South Africa’s leading team for three years.

    And when the gargantuan Springbok lock did finally leave the “splinters”, the Stormers were playing second fiddle, as had been pretty much the case from the start.

    But his entry sparked the biggest, most optimistic roar of the balmy evening … and the big enforcer did not disappoint, so clearly pepping up all around him as the Capetonians somehow snatched victory a full five minutes after the siren through reserve scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies’s vital little dart for a try at the base of a post.

    Etzebeth had tweeted a day before that he was relishing “the privilege of playing for the Stormers again … it’s been almost two years”.

    Indeed, the player widely anticipated to quit the fold for Toulon after the 2019 campaign has suffered an awful jinx when it comes to injuries hugely curtailing his Super Rugby involvement over the years, whereas Test rugby has been rather plainer sailing for him.

    While Etzebeth’s slightly belated personal start to the season was far from flawless – a hallmark bedevilling many team-mates as the Stormers still look a long, long way short of a title-aspirant outfit – he got stuck in physically with instinctive relish and certainly played a key role in engineering more of a front-foot feel to the hosts’ cause; it teed up their frenzied closing 10 minutes or so of hammering away at the usually unbending Lions defence.

    Certainly his repeated, typically bashing carries toward the end sucked in visiting players as he emulated another seasoned Bok powerhouse in the home ranks, Pieter-Steph du Toit, who had earlier worked industriously on that front from the blindside flank berth.

    The Lions will feel more than a little unlucky to have let this one slip right at the death; they had been the better side for much of the imperfect, stop-start contest and were hamstrung also by losing skipper Warren Whiteley to a shoulder problem just before halftime.

    But the hang-in-there Stormers proved they do have a pulse even if their “corpse” – that was what they had looked like at Loftus a week earlier – still has a reasonably rancid look and feel.

    From a skills, rhythm and continuity perspective, an awful lot of improvement is required if they are to challenge either for the overall title or conference honours.

    Of the three South African franchises in action on local soil on Saturday, the Sharks earlier looked the most polished by some distance, earning a bonus-point 26-7 victory over the Blues in Durban and looking a particularly slick all-round force in the first half when they did most of the damage.

    They have a maximum haul of 10 points and this is their best two-game start to a Super Rugby campaign since the 2016 season, when they had beaten the Kings and Jaguares respectively.

    Next on the agenda for Robert du Preez’s charges is the weekend’s now tantalising home derby against the Stormers; it will be a bit of a “Super Saturday” in this country as the Lions earlier tackle the Bulls in a Highveld grudge game at Emirates Airline Park.

    Next weekend’s fixtures (home teams first, all kick-offs SA time):

    Friday: Hurricanes v Brumbies, 08:35; Rebels v Highlanders, 10:45. Saturday: Chiefs v Sunwolves, 08:35; Reds v Crusaders, 10:45; Lions v Bulls, 15:05; Sharks v Stormers, 17:15; Jaguares v Blues, 23:40. Bye: Waratahs.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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    Fixtures

    Friday, 31 January 2020
    • Blues v Chiefs, Eden Park 08:05
    • Brumbies v Reds, GIO Stadium 10:15
    • Sharks v Bulls, Jonsson Kings Park Stadium 19:10
    Saturday, 01 February 2020
    • Sunwolves v Rebels, Fukuoka Hakatanomori Stadium 05:45
    • Crusaders v Waratahs, Trafalgar Park 08:05
    • Stormers v Hurricanes, Cape Town 15:05
    • Jaguares v Lions, Estadio Jose Amalfitani 23:40
    Friday, 07 February 2020
    • Highlanders v Sharks, Forsyth Barr Stadium 08:05
    • Brumbies v Rebels, GIO Stadium 10:15

    Results

    No results are available

    Logs

    Rank Team P W Pts
    • Bulls (Q)
    • Jaguares (wc)
    • Lions
    • Sharks
    • Stormers

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