Abysmal first-phase defence and a startling lack of ingenuity on attack confined the Stormers to a 30-15 loss to the Highlanders, their second home defeat of the Vodacom Super 14.
It’s not often in Vodacom Super Rugby that a side can claim to be gifted an away win, as Highlanders coach Greg Cooper would have testified last weekend after the soaked slugfest in Bloem. A week on, with Newlands fondly nicknamed the House of Gain, he’ll be tempted to qualify that statement.
Knock ons, a bucketful of possession kicked away in aimless grubbers and dabs combined with frequent missed tackles meant the Stormers yet again were their own worst enemy in conditions supposedly perfectly suited to their ‘attacking’ style of rugby.
Labelling the Stormers of 2006 as creative would be a little like calling Johannesburg scenic: an abhorrent manipulation of the truth. The predictability of their attacks, invariably broken down in midfield, and amateurish exploitation of the most basic situations is shameful.
The only tactic worthy of the name saw Bolla Conradie again successfully launch on the two Highlanders wingers. Five kicks saw two knock-ons, one effective chase and two were ineffective. It worked 60% of the time, which is 60% more than anything else the Stormers tried in 80 minutes of woeful footy.
De Wet Barry and Gus Theron did not produce anything in the previous two fixtures. Nothing was expected of them this afternoon, and they did not exceed those expectations.
Usual suspect Theron’s contribution began with a missed tackle in the opening minute, resulting in a 50m gain for winger Vilimoni Delasau and set the tone for the remainder of the fixture. He missed another in the 46th minute, botched a clear try-scoring opportunity early on when he went for the line from 5m out with Rayno Benjamin free outside him, and knocked on in the 50th when again the opportunity was evident out wide. Marius Joubert replaced him after 53 minutes. If he sees a black jersey again this season a boycott of Newlands would not surprise.
For all Theron’s botches, he cannot inherit sole responsibility. Coach Kobus van der Merwe has been unlucky in losing key playmaker Jean de Villiers for three consecutive weeks, but that is insufficient reason to explain the lack of direction, intent and incisiveness of the Stormers backline. The Highlanders’ defence is renowned, but they were made to resemble granite by collective indecisiveness, panic and poor execution.
What little the home side offered on attack was dwarved by their defensive lapses, in which the turnstile impersonations were commendable but the tackling delporable. Roy Kinikinilau’s opening try came from a poorly weighted Barry kick that resulted in a 60m counter-attack. Three missed tackles. Kinikinilau’s second came from first-phase, straight through the hands. Theron missed tackle. Ben Kahui’s try that sealed the win was an intercept score. Two missed tackles.
Of the 21 men in black who bumbled their way to defeat, only three deserve to escape condemnation. The few occasions the Stormers looked threatening, Greeff was the catalyst. Conradie was good and Hanyani Shimange did not deserve to be substituted at half time. His 5 from 7 lineout delivery stands in comparison to Schalk Brits’ 5 from 9, including two losses in the Highlanders’s 22.
The Highlanders, routinely underrated, head to Pretoria with two wins from two on their safari in the Republic. They are emerging as genuine semi-final contenders.
The Stormers, in contrast, are proving more Cats than Crusaders. Unless remarkable improvements are made, basement-dwelling is looking increasingly likely as the competition progresses.
Tries: Rayno Benjamin and Naas Olivier
Con: Peter Grant
Tries: Roy Kinikinilau 2 and Richard Kahui
Cons: Ben Blair 3
Pens: Blair 3
THE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
79 mins: Scrappy consolation score for Stormers by debutant Naas Olivier. It’s ill deserved. (Olivier 0/1)
66 mins: Conradie launches a counter-attack from just on half way. Brits receives and throws a wild pass to Benjamin outside him. Intercepted by Richard Kahui who darts inside Greeff and is under the sticks. Game over. (Blair 6/7)
63 mins: Stormers bumbling efforts to claw back the deficit result in yet another kickable penalty conceded. It’s bang in front and Balir obliges. (Blair 5/6)
42 mins: Stormers concede a penalty straight after half time. Blair takes advantage (Balir 4/5)
36 mins: Stormers concede free-kick for a delayed line-out. It goes straight down the Highlanders line, Neil Brew cuts outside Theron and inside Benjamin, and the simplest pass to Kinikinilau results in the simplest try. Blair converts from the touchline. (Blair 3/4)
30 mins: Tough kick for Blair after Stormers concede are penalised for obstruction. It’s got the legs but just fades left. (Blair 2/3)
28 mins: A frantic passage of counter-attacks results in Booi being penalised just to the right of the uprights and about 35m out. Ben Blair steps up, and nails it. (Blair 2/2)
22 mins: Superb solo score by Rayno Benjamin. The underrated winger takes blind from the scrum and has the pace to get around Craig Newby who scampers from the back of the scrum. One-on-one with Kinikinilau, he chips ahead and gets the bounce. Try time Stormers. Grant converts. (Grant 2/2)
14 mins: Chumani Booi takes well from Highlanders clearance. Greeff counters brilliantly and puts Conradie one-on-one. Highlanders scramble, and Gus Theron goes for glory with a free man outside him. Bad error. Greeff gets from the ruck, chips ahead and is obstructed. Peter Grant bangs over the penalty (Grant 1/1)
8 mins: Expansive Stormers attack sees Barry hack ahead for Chumani Booi to chase. It’s terribly weighted, and Delesau gethers and launches an incisive counter attack. Great support sees Kinikinilau beat last man Adri Badenhorst and he’s under the sticks. Ben Blair converts. (Blair 1/1)
3 mins: Peter Grant makes a few metres as he takes it to the line from a scrum on halfway. Highlanders pinged at the ruck. Werner Greeff attempts a lengthy shot at goal. He misses. (Greeff 0/1)