The Stormers ensured the Super 14 title will remain in South Africa after beating the Waratahs 25-6 in the semi-final on Saturday.
The Cape side will travel to Soweto next week to face the defending champs, the Bulls, in a match that will feature the tournament’s two best teams. Regardless of the result, a South African franchise has now won the title three times in the last four years.
The atmosphere inside the Newlands cauldron crackled with intensity as the 48 000-strong crowd greeted Schalk Burger and the Stormers. Cape Town’s been abuzz with expectation this week, and despite Alllister Coetzee’s diplomatic claims to the contrary, the local fans had already begun to prepare themselves for a final with the Bulls.
The first half was as hard as expected, and the occasion prescribed a more conservative approach from both teams. Berrick Barnes attempted to disrupt the well-drilled Stormers’ defence with some probing grubbers as the Tahs sought to set up camp in the opposition 22. The Stormers responded with the typical stonewall, the type of defence that forced the Tahs into handling errors.
The hosts bossed the collisions but were less than clinical at the breakdowns, while the Tahs managed to stop their maul at the lineout. Referee Mark Lawrence had a tough time officiating at the scrums, and dished out penalties to both teams.
This made for a stop-start match, and after 24 minutes the scoreline read 6-6 after two Peter Grant penalties and a Barnes drop and penalty. Sensing the break in momentum, the fans began the Mexican Wave, and a moment later, they were given something to scream about.
Juan de Jongh has been a fantastic ball-carrier in midfield this season, but on this occasion, he treated the Newlands faithful to a spectacular display of side-stepping. The Stormers No 12 glided through a gap and then proceeded to wrong-foot three defenders before powering over the line. Those who didn’t applaud were left with an incredulous look, the most notable and incredulous bystander being Berrick Barnes.
The Tahs failed to profit from their forays into the Stormers’ 22, as a handling error or breakdown steal usually cost them possession. They had a chance to level the scores right after half-time when a Tatafu Polota-Nau break set Tom Carter up, but De Jongh made a heroic covering tackle to dislodge the ball and send Tahs skipper Phil Waugh into a tantrum.
Grant missed one kick at goal before finding his radar, and the Stormers went into the final quarter with a comfortable 19-6 lead. Playing catch-up rugby, the desperate Tahs began to force passes and boot the ball straight into touch. While the Stormers never took full advantage of these turnovers, they maintained a cushion as the clock wound down.
The Stormers’ big defensive hits kept coming to the delight of the locals, and another Grant penalty sent them into rapture. The refrain of ‘Ons kannie worry nie’ and the resounding ‘Ole, ole, ole,’ filled the ground when Grant sealed the result with a further three-pointer, a kick that confirmed the Stormers place in their first ever Super Rugby final.
By Jon Cardinelli