Not even a 22 point fightback in the second half could prevent the Stormers from succumbing to a clinical Cheetahs side, for whom flyhalf Meyer Bosman was superb.
The Cheetahs won this Vodacom Super 14 match 31-25 after leading 18-3 and then trailing 25-21 with nine minutes to play.
A tactically superb first half by the Cheetahs saw them out to an 18-3 lead at the break, courtesy of six Bosman penalties. The game plan was simple: kick on the Stormers back three as routinely as possible. None of Tonderai Chavhanga, Rayno Benjamin or fullback Joe Pietersen possessed either the boot or the confidence to cause any significant damage.
The result was 40 minutes encamped in the Stormers half, and ill-discipline by an increasingly frustrated home side saw Bosman show exactly why Bok coach Jake White was happy entrusting him with green jersey 10 on the end of year tour.
An examination of Pietersen’s stats tells the story. He was kicked on five times in the opening 40. He launched an up and under that he couldn’t regather, delivered an ineffective kick and an effective one, ran once and was smashed and made one pass that found grass and not Stormers hands. Benjamin and Chavhanga’s stats read similarly.
Simply put, the Stormers could not get out of their half. The Cheetahs played the waiting game, and when the inevitable mistakes were forced, Bosman was good enough to profit.
A radical deficit prompted a radical change of thinking by Stormers coach Kobus van der Merwe. Trailing by 15, he emptied his bench and replaced Eddie Andrews, Luke Watson, Neil de Kock and Peter Grant with Neil Fullard, Adri Badenhorst, Bolla Conradie and Naas Olivier respectively. It was the final change that would prove to be the masterstroke.
Where Grant appeared hesitant and rushed in the opening 40, Olivier was composed. He did nothing special, but his much improved distribution skills and fluidity meant the Stormers attacks were brutal and not bumbling. The ghost masquerading as Jean de Villiers suddenly morphed into the player who has won Tests for his country, and primary ball carriers Schalk Brits and Schalk Burger found space and not granite in front of them.
The result was three superb tries. Ross Skeate’s power accounted for the first, after Olivier’s well-timed pass, Schalk Brits’ pace and step the second and the instinctive angle and offload by De Villiers the third.
Incredibly 3-18 had become 25-21, and the Stormers had finally sparked. It burnt for six minutes. A technically perfect maul from a 5m lineout saw the Cheetahs retake the lead, and another Bosman penalty soon after sealed the deal for the visitors.
It is impossible not to commiserate with Van der Merwe. Villian at half time, hero after 68 minutes, and villain again 12 minutes later. His first season of Vodacom Super Rugby is proving one of disaster and not discovery.
Rassie Erasmus and his side celebrate a second away victory after downing the Sharks early in their campaign. It is the second time Erasmus has visited Newlands as coach, and the second time he has emerged with the win. As with the previous occasion in the Currie Cup semi final of last year, his tactical acumen was a decisive factor.
The Stormers have reason to be shattered. Their fightback was impressive, but what this season has reinforced is they are a side whose weaknesses outweigh their strengths. The tight five has been better this year, but two conceded pushover tries in two weeks is evidence of continued vulnerability. Not having a solitary member of the starting backline who is recognised as an effective tactical kicker has also been exploited.
Olivier’s 40 minute cameo revealed that the Stormers, finally, have found a flyhalf. After six weeks he has been stumbled on and that is not something the Stormers can be proud of.
They are now 10th on the log, and with a five-week away leg beckoning in a fortnight, the potential to fall further is all too apparent.
Tries: Ross Skeate, Schalk Brits and Tonderai Chavhanga
Cons: Naas Olivier 2
Pens: Peter Grant and Olivier
Try: Ryno van der Merwe
Con: Meyer Bosman
Pens: Bosman 8
THE MOMENTS THAT MATTER
76 mins: Stormers are again pinged at scrumtime, second occasion of the match. Again it’s kickable and again Bosman steps up for an incredible eighth penalty attempt. Over. (Bosman 9/9)
74 mins: Cheetahs hit back through their pack. It’s from the second 5m lineout in succession, and a good technical maul sees 8th man Ryno van der Merwe crash over to retake the lead. Bosman converts. (Bosman 8/8)
72 mins: Melck is penalised on the floor as the Cheetahs attempt to subject Newlands to another heartbreaking late defeat. It’s bang in front and 22m out, and the call is for a lineout. Big call Juan Smith.
68 mins: Superb Stormers. Bekker steals the lineout in the Cheetahs 22, and knocks it down to Conradie who fires a great pass across to Burger. It’s Jean de Villiers who makes the score, brilliant angle and offload to Chavhanga who scores on his return to first-class rugby. Awesome try. Olivier converts. (Olivier 3/4)
64 mins: Cheetahs have a 5m scrum, and wily Os du Randt manufactures a penalty from the inexperienced Neil Fullard. Bosman steps up to retake the lead, no problem. (Bosman 7/7)
60 mins: There’s only one team in the second half so far, and it’s the home side. Again they’re camped in the Cheetahs 22, and looking threatening. Cheetahs crack and concede the penalty on their line, De Villiers asks Oliver for the three points. He obliges. (Olivier 2/3)
52 mins: Stormers score their second try through Schalk Brits. It’s a fine counter-attack, Brits’ awesome pace and step gets him to the corner after Chavhanga initially started the attack. Conradie and Burger prominent. Olivier hits the post. (Olivier 1/2)
44 mins: Kobus van der Merwe empties his bench at half time in an attempt to galvanise the struggling Cape side, and the effect is immediate. Replacement flyhalf Naas Olivier is prominent throughout a multi-phase movement. Eventually it’s his inside ball that finds Ross Skeate who has the power to make the line. Olivier converts. (Olivier 1/1)
39 mins: Stormers concede their sixth kickable penalty of the half. All the previous five have sailed over. Again it’s at ruck time, this time for diving in. Outstanding Meyer Bosman, outstanding. The toughest kick possible, and it sails over. (Bosman 6/6)
35 mins: Chavhanga is noticably hesistant in contact, perhaps he’s been rushed back? He is pinged for holding the ball on the ground and it’s another tough shot for Bosman. He’s kicking like a dream though and it’s over. (Bosman 5/5)
32 mins: The penalties continue to flow as the Cheetahs take a quick kick-off. Luke Watson takes well but is penalised in contact. Bosman takes the three straight back. (Bosman 4/4)
29 mins: Stormers work their way into the Cheetahs 22 after three set phases from the lineout. This time the Cheetahs stray offside, and Grant makes them pay. Stormers on the board. (Grant 1/2)
25 mins: Again the Stormers are forced to scramble on defence, and again the backs are pinged for being offside. It’s bang in front for Bosman, about 38m out. He has no problem. (Bosman 3/3)
19 mins: Cheetahs are having the better of the scrap thus far as the Stormers have hardly seen the ball since the opening minutes. Their backline is pinged for being offside, and up steps Bosman to double the lead. A metre within his own half, but it doesn’t matter as he nails it. (Bosman 2/2)
13 mins: Marius Joubert makes a fine pick up off his toes and makes 15m before attempting to offload. The ball hits the deck and the ref rules the support players were obstructed. Up steps Peter Grant to level the scores from in front, but he misses. (Grant 0/1)
9 mins: A frantic opening sees the Stormers botch two clear opportunities in the Cheetahs’ 22. The boys from Bloem respond well by working upfield, and a three-on-one is illegally countered by Tonderai Chavhanga who is penalised for a deliberate knock down. Meyer Bosman steps up and takes the points. (Bosman 1/1)