The Crusaders lost their first game of the Vodacom Super 14 when they were humbled 28-17 by the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday night.
Apart from Kobus van der Merwe and his embattled side, the Waratahs will also be celebrating a rare Crusaders defeat that gives them the chance to top the Super 14 log and ensure a home semi-final and final. The ‘Tahs and ‘Saders are both on 42 points, but the Australians have a better points difference.
The Stormers got off to a thunderous start when De Wet Barry intercepted a poor pass from Crusaders hooker Corey Flynn to score under the posts. Peter Grant converted and the home side led by seven after just 46 seconds of play.
The Crusaders, without Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Leon MacDonald in the starting XV, struggled in the opening minutes, with a pass not going to hand and a kick going directly into touch. However, a high tackle from Stormers No 8 Joe van Niekerk saw stand-in flyhalf Cameron McIntyre knocked over a penalty to make it 7-3.
Grant then kicked his first penalty of the night, before missing an absolute sitter a few minutes later. However, his third attempt from 40m out went straight through the uprights to give the home side a 10-point advantage.
The Crusaders dominated the last 10 minutes of the half and only committed defence from the Stormers kept them out.
Grant had an opportunity to extend the Stormers lead just before half-time, but his penalty attempt went wide of the right-hand upright.
The Stormers spent the first five minutes of the second half on the Crusaders tryline and were rewarded for their pressure when Grant took the gap and managed to ground the ball on the whitewash. The No 10 missed the conversion, but the home side were out to a commanding 18-3 lead.
The Crusaders reacted by bringing Carter on at flyhalf, but the Stormers went straight back onto the attack, with Barry breaking the defence, and Marius Joubert losing the ball forward just 5m out from the tryline.
With Carter on the field, the Crusaders spent a full 10 minutes inside the Stormers 22, but could not find a way through. Grant then slotted another penalty, after the visitors were penalised at the breakdown, to make it 21-3.
The Crusaders hit back with 12 minutes to go when replacement Johnny Leo’o was driven over for his side’s first try and Carter converted to reduce the deficit to 11. However, when Grant sent prop Eddie Andrews away for a five-pointer, the champions were finally put out of their misery.
Rico Gear scored a consolation try with time up on the clock, but it didn’t detract from a superb Stormers win.
Springbok No 8 Joe van Niekerk was deservedly named man of the match, while Luke Watson and Schalk Burger were again dominant at the breakdown. The Crusaders must regret their decision not to include McCaw on the bench for he was sorely missed.
Stormers - Tries: De Wet Barry, Peter Grant, Eddie Andrews. Conversions: Peter Grant (2). Penalties: Grant (2).
Crusaders - Tries: Jonny Leoâ€™o, Rico Gear. Conversions: Dan Carter (2). Penalty: Cameron McIntyre.
By Simon Borchardt, at Newlands
75min – Grants throws an inside pass to Andrews, who seals it with a try. Grant converts.
68min – Leo’o is driven over for the try and Carter converts. Cruaders are right back in it.
55min – Crusaders penalised for hands in the ruck, Grant makes no mistake with the penalty.
51min – The Crusaders have spent the last 10 minutes in the Stormers 22, but they cannot find a way through.
44min – Dan Carter comes on at flyhalf.
43min – Grant spots a gap, is tackled but grounds the ball on the tryline. Now the Crusaders are in big trouble. Grant misses the conversion.
38min – Ralph is penalised for holding on but Grant’s 45m penalty attempt goes wide.
29min – Brits breaks a tackle and gains 40m down the left-hand touchline. Ball goes into touch.
20min – Grant succeeds with a penalty from 40m out.
15min – De Kock is high tackled and Grant kicks for touch.
13min – Grant misses a penalty he would normally knocked over in his sleep.
9min – Grant slots his first penalty of the night.
5min – Van Niekerk pinned for a high tackle. McIntyre makes no mistake.
1min – Barry intercepts a poor pass from Flynn and scores under the posts. Great start for the Stormers. Grant converts.