The Stormers delivered a disjointed but ultimately profitable display to down the Spears 73-5 in their final Super 14 crank-up before the Super 14.
It’s not often that a coach can reflect on a 73-5 win with a slightly bitter aftertaste, but if Kobus van der Merwe is realistic he will know the immense difference on the scoreboard was not reflected in on-field ruthlessness and precision.
Not even a scoreline that emphatic could disguise some glaring home truths. Due to captain Ashley Johnson’s sinbinning early in the first half and prop Eugene Maqwelana’s dismissal for punching seven minutes before the break, the Spears contested the fixture with 14 men for a cumulative 57 minutes. The fact that no point was scored in the opening 25 minutes even with the Spears a man down for 10 of them is damning.
What will worry Van der Merwe is the failure of the Stormers’ most obvious strength, their all-star backline, to fire for a second successive week – despite almost wholesale changes in personnel. In contrast the supposed weakness, the pack, demonstrated the required skill and experience to overcome the excuberance of the visitors.
Eleven tries (six being delivered by the backline) may suggest otherwise, but only three of the five pointers were well constructed backline efforts. The opening four scores went to forwards, providing the platform from which the backs could capitalise after the inevitability of fatigue crept into scrambling Spears legs.
Most concerning was the performance of Peter Grant. His distribution was cumbersome and he showed neither the anticipation nor timing to allow the talent outside him to profit. Jean de Villiers provided an occasional moment of brilliance, but when he couldn’t the backs couldn’t – a testament to the general ineffectiveness of Grant.
His failure to kick the opening three conversions, resulting in Werner Greeff and then Neil de Kock inheriting the goalkicking responsibility, provided another reason why the Stormers coaching staff cannot hand him jersey 10 with any conviction heading into the Super 14.
Solace can be found in the performance of flankers Luke Watson and Schalk Burger. Watson, in particular, shone. Freed up to fulfil the specialist role as opensider, his turnovers in the 6th and 23rd minutes came at moments when the Spears could sense a scoring opportunity was a phase away. His elusive running with ball in hand resulted in two deserved scores, and ultimately the impression of his performance was of a player rejuvenated.
Equally, Burger’s performance as a dedicated blindsider showcased his value when tasked with ball carrying as a primary responsibility. So often the carrier from second-phase, he made ground with regularity and ensured his side operated on the front foot throughout. His defence around channels one and two was typically brutal.
The inevitable question of Hanyani Shimange’s claims as first-choice hooker was raised for the first time this year by the 30 minute cameo delivered by Schalk Brits. Shimange was solid, scoring the opening try and his throwing was consistent, but Brits just added that other dimension. His pace and hands made tries for Jongi Nokwe in the 70th and then Joe Pietersen in the 78th minute, and his value in a faster and looser game was evident.
Ultimately the rout provided the Stormers with a timeous cobweb-clearing and confidence-boosting exercise, but any other deductions from the game would be folly. The Spears came to spoil, but when down to 14 men could not prevent the avalanche of tries that resulted.
Tries: Hanyani Shimange, Luke Watson 2, Ross Skeate, Jean de Villiers, Rayno Benjamin 2, Schalk Burger, Jongi Nokwe 2 and Joe Pietersen
Cons: Werner Greeff 3 and Neil de Kock 6
**Sinbin: JD Moller (33 min)
Try: Spencer Wakeling
**Sinbin: Ashley Johnson (14 min)
**Sent off: Eugene Maqwelana (33 min)