Defensive demons sink Stormers

Heartbreaking. It’s a word that’s been as familiar to Newlands as celebration’s been foreign, and is the most apt way of describing the Stormers’ 23-19 loss to the Hurricanes in the Vodacom Super 14.

Heartbreaking because this was the win tossed away that could have kickstarted a run that sees the Cheetahs at home and the Force away as the next two opponents. Heartbreaking because the Stormers led for 78 minutes of a match they never should have lost. And heartbreaking because of the manner of the blow that consigned them to defeat.

With 79 minutes on the clock, and narrowly leading 19-18, Canes winger Hosea Gear received the ball tight on the touchline and with not many options 22m out. With three cover defenders coming across, the only line he was destined for was the touchline. Somehow he made the tryline. Missed tackles from Peter Grant, Rayno Benjamin and Chumani Booi formed the most abysmal attempt at cover defence ever witnessed by Newlands.

The Stormers coaches will be pounded for yet another defeat, but the question must be asked whether three missed tackles on one player is the fault of the players or the fault of the coaches. On a day in which the Cape side provided their most composed and clinical display of the tournament with ball in hand, the abomination that was the last minute may be the setback that sends the Stormers’ campaign spiralling out of control

After the Highlanders trouncing last weekend, two performances were likely. Capitulation or domination. Neither ensued. This was no explosive outpouring of flair and talent, but composure allied with correct decision-making ensured the Stormers controlled a game for more than 40 minutes. This time they controlled it for 73 minutes, but again it proved insufficient.

The Canes, 19-10 down after 64 minutes, profited from the Cape side’s noticable hesitancy and attempts to defend the lead rather than attack and finish off the Kiwis. The previous hour of rugby saw Schalk Burger and Luke Watson dominate the breakdown to the extent that 13 points (a converted try and two penalties) resulted directly from their intervention. Schalk Brits scored a well-worked training ground move from lineout and Peter Grant’s goalkicking was top draw. His success rate stands at 89% for the season, and five from seven saw the Cape side in the position to finish off the game.

The Stormers didn’t try much, but what they did they executed well.

The Canes, in contrast, were hamstrung by overexuberance and basic errors. Three times Ma’a Nonu cut the line, the first in the 2nd minute, and three times hands down the line would have seen Canes scores. Nonu did not make the correct decision on any of the three occasions. The faultering lineout saw eight lost, five because of Andrew Hore’s wayward throwing. But because of noticeable Stormers mental frailty they were never disheartened. And in the final five minutes, they showed the greater will to win and tactically exploit tiring Stormers defenders.

The week ahead will again see the Stormers’ press defence system crucified. It’s misplaced criticism. The system itself is not at fault, rather the execution of it. Apart from three Nonu linebreaks, which is his usual return, the Canes were contained.

The introduction of Jimmy Gopperth by Canes coach Colin Cooper saw the tactics of attacking close to the ruck introduced, and that is where the Canes suddenly found the ground and generated the momentum that enabled the two late scores. The theory behind the press defence emphasises intensely the importance of the guard and bodyguard, defenders who do not press but cover the fringes of the ruck.

Call it fatigue. Call it inexperience or call it a lack of understanding, but on a lukewarm Saturday night at Newlands, the guards and bodyguards left their posts.

And their team paid for it.

SCORERS

Stormers

Try: Schalk Brits
Con: Peter Grant
Pens: Grant 4

Hurricanes

Tries: Rodney So’oialo, Taine Tuipolotu and Hosea Gear
Con: David Holwell
Pens: Holwell and Jimmy Gopperth

THE MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

79 mins: Hosea Gear steals it for the Canes at the death. That’s heartbreaking, but inexplicable. Cover defence of Grant, Benjamin and Booi ALL manage to miss Gear. Inexplicable, and it’s cost them the game. (Gopperth 1/3)

74 mins: The Canes are camped in the Stormers 22, and eventually the home side crack. It’s the centre Taine Tuipolotu who crashes over eventully in the corner. Just two many yellow jumpers. Vital conversion from the touchline, and Gopperth misses. Stormers still by one. (Gopperth 1/2)

69 mins: Big call So’oialo. Penalty bang in front, and he instructs Gopperth to kick for the corner.

64 mins: Canes put together a few phases, and Gopperth looks dangerous. Skeate is pinged for a high hit on Hosea Gear. It’s bang in front and allows replacement flyhalf Gopperth to bring the Canes within striking range. The noise is deafening at Newlands, but it doesn’t put off Gopperth. (Gopperth 1/1)

56 mins: Ross Skeate soars to secure his 4th lineout of the evening, and Paul Tito is pinged at the subsequent maul. Stormers are capitalising on the dominance of possession and territory they’re enjoying. Grant’s having a great day with the boot, only two of his kicks so far could be termed easy. His seventh attempt is again tough, and he pushes it to the right. (Grant 5/7)

53 mins: De Villiers makes a huge hit on Nonu, he’s learnt from earlier. It’s another penalty at the breakdown for the Stormers, their flankers are causing havoc. Grant has a chance to extend the lead, and does so. (Grant 5/6)

48 mins: Burger wins the penalty at the breakdown, great work. It’s knocked into touch 18m out. It’s Skeate straight back to Brits…and he’s away! Andrew Hore beaten…Brits one on one with Fa’atau….and he runs straight over him to score in the corner. Great try Stormers. Grant has another tough kick. Superbly struck. (Grant 4/5)

43 mins: The Hurricanes win a lineout 20m out after Werner Greeff is forced to run the ball into touch. Amazingly, the Canes pack maul it over from 20m out. When was the last time they’ve done that?? Not a notable achievement for the Stormers eight. Holwell converts, and the Canes have the lead. (Holwell 2/3)

40 mins: Bang on half time, and Jean de Villiers chips ahead for De Wet Barry to chase. He’s impeded and Grant has a chance to restore the lead to 9. It’s his toughest kick on the night, 50m with the angle and bang on the touchline. He misses narrowly and the ball is still in play. (Grant 3/4)

34 mins: Stormers tackling technique again questioned, this time Holwell lacks both the direction and the distance. (Holwell 1/2)

30 mins: Joubert penalised for a high hit after the Canes throw away a 3 on 1. David Holwell puts the Canes on the board. (Holwell 1/1)

20 mins: Watson wins the penalty at the breakdown, great openside play. Grant knocks the ball into touch on the Canes’ 22. The lineout is won and Burger charges ahead. He’s tackled high, and so a third shot for Grant in the first quarter. He’s made no mistake with two, and makes none with the third. (Grant 3/3)

15 mins: Stormers appear far more fluid than in previous weeks. It’s a good interlinking move from the lineout that sees Rayno Benjamin tackled after five sets of hands see the ball. Watson does well in contact again and offloads to Marius Joubert. Canes steal the ball on the ground, illegally says the ref. Grant just to the left of the uprights to double the lead. No problem. (Grant 2/2)

7 mins: Stormers put together two good phases, Luke Watson is strong in contact and ensures the momentum. Burger loops round and at the resultant ruck the Canes are penalised. First shot for Peter Grant, it’s tough, but he nails it. Good start for Grant. (Grant 1/1)

3 mins: First time the ‘Canes backs see the ball, and Ma’a Nonu slices straight through Jean de Villiers. He offloads to To’eava, but the Stormers scramble and win the scrum 8m out from their own line.