JON CARDINELLI reports on another tryless bore at Newlands that was eventually won 18-6 by the Stormers.
During the build-up to this fixture, I heard that Newlands had been described as Super Rugby’s new House of Pain. By the end of Saturday’s match, I had to agree. The statement is true when you consider the fixtures staged at this venue over the past three weeks have been painfully boring, error-strewn, and short on tries.
If this was a boxing fixture and not a rugby match, there would be plenty to report. Both the Stormers and Highlanders weren’t afraid to get physical, with off-the-ball scuffles lending the match some much-needed excitement. But to be honest, the hand-to-hand combat was also a let-down, even though it resulted in yellow cards for locks Andries Bekker and Jarrad Hoeata in the 36th minute. Even that couldn’t separate two teams in dire form.
What did separate them was the accurate place-kicking of Peter Grant. The Highlanders were just as ill-disciplined and mistake-prone as the hosts, but had their opportunities as well. Robbie Robinson missed two penalty-attempts in the first half, and fluffed another after the break. It was because of these misses that the Highlanders turned down goalable opportunities later in the game.
The Stormers’ set-pieces were inconsistent for the second-week running, and while they effected some handy turnovers, they also conceded far too much possession at the rucks. On attack, they made unforced errors and took bad decisions. When they did breach the Highlanders’ defence, they didn’t know how to finish.
Grant gave the hosts some breathing room with two more penalty-goals, and at 15-6 up, you would have expected the Stormers to capitalise. Instead, they continued to turn over possession, and only some desperate defence stifled the Highlanders’ late surge. It was a fine tackling display full of resolve, but then you have to ask how they had come to be in a situation where they defended for most of the fourth quarter. Their ball retention was abysmal.
While the Stormers’ problems on attack persist and their discipline continues to cost them possession, they have somehow managed to maintain the winning habit. After three rounds they remain unbeaten, which is crazy if you think about how poorly they’ve played and the fact that they’ve only scored one try in 240 minutes of rugby.