The Stormers salvaged a losing bonus point but were largely outplayed in their 20-14 loss to the Sharks.
Invasion of the body snatchers. It’s the only logical explanation for such a shoddy Stormers performance. How could a team that systematically destroyed the Crusaders produce such an amateurish showing just a week later? Where was that reputable defence, the composure under pressure and the strive for accuracy that the management preaches about week after week?
Take nothing away from the Sharks, they deserved to win. They went into this fixture with nothing to lose, but a loose approach was complemented by the niggling at close quarters. Men like Rory Kockott got under the Stormers’ skin, and out wide, the Sharks were finding that reputable Stormers defence rather ordinary.
It took seven minutes for the Sharks to score their first try. The hosts played the game at an intimidating pace, and worked the ball wide to Odwa Ndungane’s wing once an overlap had been created. They may have scored more tries in the first half, as John Smit opted to kick each penalty to touch and remain in Stormers’ territory. Unfortunately, Ndungane dropped two passes with the line at his mercy.
While the home team lapsed occasionally, it was the Stormers that handled the ball poorly. Their unforced error toll continues rise and when they did manage to secure possession, they lost the ball in contact or bobbled it in the offload.
Their kicking game was also below par, and they battled to get out of their own territory. They did manage to scramble well with Schalk Burger making up for a number of his team-mates’ missed first-time tackles. Amazingly, they did well enough to keep the score at 7-0 just before the break.
But a classic case of Sireli Naqelevuki stupidity resulted in another try for the Sharks right on the hooter. Ruan Pienaar produced a harmless chip over the Stormers’ defence and Naqelevuki strolled back to dot it down. The winger was too casual in his approach, and proceeded to knock the ball back before Pienaar flew through to claim a try.
Naqelevuki’s cost the Stormers in big games before, coming off the bench in the 2009 Currie Cup semi-final and producing a campaign-ending high tackle. It’s something for the Stormers’ coaches to consider before they select their team for next week.
The visitors picked up the intensity in the second half and scored a well-worked try through Peter Grant in the 45th minute. Grant had an opportunity to narrow the gap when he lined up a long-range penalty attempt, but the ball drifted wide.
Pienaar obliged with a missed penalty of his own in the 52nd minute, but momentum remained with the Sharks. At times it seemed as if the Sharks’ short runners were coated in vaseline as Stormers defenders continued to slip tackles or allow the Sharks some good go-forward. Pienaar had a good night directing play from the flyhalf position while speedster Lwazi Mvovo was a danger whenever he touched the ball.
The greasy pill proved difficult to control, and the Sharks, playing at a frightening pace, made their fair share of errors. But with nothing to lose, they continued to push the envelope and run the ball from all corners. The Stormers on the other hand, seemed to grow more frustrated with each spilled pass.
Pienaar slotted a penalty in the 67th minute to all but seal the result, as the Stormers attack struggled to breach the Sharks’ defence. When they occasionally found a gap, they couldn’t offload or were slowed by the Sharks at the ensuing ruck.
Grant’s poor showing with the boot culminated in a missed penalty from right in front in the 74th minute. Francois Louw crashed over on full-time and Grant’s subsequent conversion gave the visitors a losing bonus point, but the Stormers’ pivot will regret his two misses ahead of a testing encounter with the Bulls.
Next week’s fixture holds special significance, as failure to win could prevent the Stormers from advancing to the play-offs. The win may also not be enough to guarantee them a home semi-final, and Allister Coetzee and company will be hoping a few other results go the Stormers’ way.
By Jon Cardinelli