Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - You have to hope that the walls in the away team dressing room at Sydney Football Stadium have at least some semblance of “give” to them.
As it happened: Waratahs 34-27 Stormers
The temptation by many in the Stormers camp - both team and management - to ram their heads or closed hands into them would have been considerable in the aftermath of their frittered-away Super Rugby encounter with the Waratahs on Saturday.
In short, it was a game they had plenty of opportunities to win.
Then they looked like settling for what would have been a reasonable enough, tour-opening draw.
Instead they ended up butchering it 34-27, a veritable comedy of errors at advanced stages allowing open-side flanker Ned Hanigan to just get over at the corner flag - the Capetonians, remember, still naively under-estimate the value of muscle in wide berths - for the match-tilting, converted try.
It will be small-beer consolation for the Stormers that they banked a lone log point for ending within seven points of the moderate ‘Tahs, bearing in mind what lies immediately ahead.
After what always shaped as their most winnable fixture of the tour trio, they trek onward now to New Zealand and respective meetings with defending champions the Crusaders and the Highlanders.
You can safely pencil already that they will be branded underdogs for both.
There was such a hopeful time, very close to the hour mark on Saturday, for supporters of the Stormers: their scrummage was assuming ever more ruthless control, spearheaded by rampant props Steven Kitshoff and Wilco Louw, and Rob Simmons, the newly-signed Waratahs second-rower, had just been sin-binned for a dangerous lineout challenge on Kobus van Dyk.
But instead the final quarter only signalled the beginning of a volley of avoidable errors and crazy decision-making - both on-field and arguably in the booth as well, where certain late substitutions of pretty smooth-firing personnel proved additionally costly.
Especially as the clock ticked down to the very last handful of pivotal minutes, the Stormers inexplicably coughed up one scrum on own, hitherto hugely dominant feed to give the labouring ‘Tahs an invigorating whiff of smelling salts (and unexpected field-gain).
Into the unpalatable bargain, a couple of horrendously-executed lineouts, with substitute hooker Dean Muir barely loose-limbed yet after a 71st-minute appearance, were also culpable in the gifting of the spoils to the home cause.
In what was always a ding-dong battle between teams who, frankly, both looked suspiciously like non-title material this year, the Stormers hadn’t helped their cause a lot earlier on by surrendering a 29th-minute try to Michael Hooper after the ‘Tahs had gleefully earned an attacking lineout for bundling visiting fullback SP Marais into touch from a questionable break-out decision from his own in-goal area.
No wonder Siya Kolisi, the rueful Stormers captain, admitted afterwards that the Waratahs had “got the upper hand on us on the exit”.
Kolisi was also correct in lamenting his charges botching plenty of “simple things” and that they “only had ourselves to blame” for leaving Sydney as second-fiddlers.
Truth be told, there was too little consistent evidence in other areas to avoid a suspicion that - at least until they filter back certain steely personnel from their casualty department in a few weeks’ time - the Stormers will sport a forceful scrum but not an awful lot of cutting edge in any other department.
Much of their attacking was too crab-like in Sydney, despite the best efforts of men like Nizaam Carr to try to punch holes and tee up overlap opportunities, and their already significant problems in depth at flyhalf were aggravated when emerging Damian Willemse (far from flawless but a threat with his stepping skills) left the park injured soon after half-time.
He was replaced by spirited but unspectacular journeyman George Whitehead, who may now be pressed into further service before this tour is over.
Remember that the cash-challenged Newlands-based franchise allowed Robert du Preez to go back to Durban in the off-season, and that Jean-Luc du Plessis is also not ready yet to bolster options in the position.
Eish, this was truly the one that got away.
Will the Stormers even feel a nip on their rod in Christchurch and Dunedin?
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