Stormers power past Cheetahs

Joe Pietersen scored a brace as the Stormers romped to a 28-22 victory in Bloemfontein.

With no play-off prospects to speak of, both sides cast off the conservative shackles and spread the ball at every available opportunity. The Cheetahs were particularly good at keeping the ball alive in contact, and it was in this manner that they scored their first try.

Meyer Bosman fixed the defence and surged, offloading to David de Villiers before taking the tackle. The big Cheetahs lock was also caught by the cover defence, but smuggled the pass to an unstoppable Sarel Pretorius.

Peter Grant was the spark in the Stormers’ midfield for much of the match, and set up Dylan des Fountain for a well-taken try. Des Fountain hit a great line and had too much pace for the defence, although it has to be said Jongi Nokwe’s tackle attempt was feeble at best.

While Grant would have impressed the Springbok selectors, Nokwe did himself no favours. Always a threat on attack, the winger was suspect on defence and nearly conceded a try when he was beaten to a high-ball by the significantly shorter Gcobani Bobo. His humiliation was complete when the half-time hooter sounded, the diminutive Joe Pietersen palming him off and jetting in for an important score.

Luke Watson delivered another strong performance, the senseless booing from the Bloemfontein crowd doing little to disturb his momentum. Watson made some crucial steals on the deck and surpassed the gain line from the back of the scrum regurlarly, and his early hit on opposing fetcher Heinirich Brussow set the tone. The boos quickly faded but Watson’s effort remained constant.

The Cheetahs forwards went into the game as favourites, but were surprised by the Stormers at scrum time. Brok Harris celebrated like Jomo Sono after the Stormers won a tighthead, and the Cheetahs’ Kobus Calldo was repeatedly penned for transgressions at this set-piece. In his final first-class match, AJ Venter was reliable at lineout time and this allowed the Stormers’ backs great attacking ball.

The Cheetahs’ coaches spoke about the threat of pivot De Waal and the veteran kicker, now in Stormers colours, didn’t disappoint. De Waal goaled a penalty after half-time to extend the lead to 20-10, and tactically he played a smart game probing behind the Cheetahs’ defence. Overall, the Stormers’ inside backs took good options, spreading the ball when the wide strike was on and kicking for territory when it was required.

The predictable Naas Olivier battled on the back foot, but halfback partner Pretorius kept defenders guessing by varying his game smartly. Although his option-taking wasn’t always great, his kicking was accurate and several breaks round the ruck demanded the best of the Stormers’ tacklers.

But the Cheetahs battled as a collective, and De Waal’s unerring boot continued to punish them for their mistakes. A penalty in the 55th minute stretched the lead to 23-10, and from that point the Cheetahs were playing catch-up rugby.

This cushion allowed the Stormers more freedom, and a looping pass by Des Fountain found Bobo out wide. The winger was well wrapped up but got a smart pass away, and Pietersen was rewarded for some fine support play when he collected the ball and scored his second.

Despite being outplayed, the Cheetahs never gave up. Replacement lock Nico Breedt scored a try under the posts which Olivier converted and De Villiers crashed over on the full-time hooter, but this late surge only served to add respectability to the scoreline. In the end, the scoreline didn’t reflect the Stormers’ dominance.

The result has no bearing on the Super Rugby standings, but the Stormers will take this momentum into the Absa Currie Cup. Under the banner of Western Province, the Cape fans will hope they persist with this more balanced approach in the coming months.

By Jon Cardinelli