JON CARDINELLI writes the Stormers will need more than guts to end their 11-year trophy drought.
Consider the term ‘brave defeat’. Which word ultimately matters?
That the Stormers showed tremendous valour in Christchurch is not up for debate. They lost both of their starting locks in the first half, and still they managed to stand up to an All Blacks-studded Crusaders pack. They lost Rynhardt Elstadt to an absurd call from referee Chris Pollock in the final quarter, and still they managed to collect a losing bonus point.
But brave defeats are still defeats. There should be no consolation for title aspirants when they drop a game against other big contenders. The Stormers should not find solace in the fact that they went to Christchurch and pushed the seven-time champs close. The reality is it was a game the Stormers could have won had they been more bloody-minded.
It was the difference between the two sides. The Crusaders have a knack of winning games they shouldn’t, it’s become something of a trademark. They may not dominate a fixture from start to finish but they make the most of their opportunities, however few they are in number. This was once again highlighted in the most recent clash with the Stormers.
There are some Stormers fans who will aim their frustration at referee Chris Pollock. While I agree that Pollock had a howler last Saturday, I wouldn’t say he cost the Cape side the game. If anything Pollock was consistent, handing out dubious yellow cards to both teams and missing the sleight of hand at both sides of the breakdown.
But which team made the most of the referee’s mistakes? The Stormers benefited from a Pollock gaffe in the build-up to Bryan Habana’s try. A knock on by Joe Pietersen wasn’t spotted by Pollock or his assistants, and so the try stood at what was an important period of the contest.
The Stormers suffered a terrible blow when Andries Bekker and Eben Etzebeth left the field with injuries in the first half, but they had a fantastic opportunity to take the lead towards the end of the second quarter. Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett was carded for an innocuous tackle and so the hosts went a man down for 10 minutes.
It’s not clear why the Stormers are unable to take advantage in these situations. The Hurricanes were down to 13 men in the first round match against the Stormers, but the Cape side still battled to breach the Hurricanes line. It was embarrassing to see flyhalf Gary van Aswegen kicking a drop goal after a 15-man Stormers attack failed to penetrate a 13-man Hurricanes defence.
Looking back, we can say that impotency proved a sign of things to come.
Last Saturday, the Stormers scored three points while Crockett was off the park, but also conceded three at the other end. The Stormers should have piled on the points at this stage, and were made to regret blowing such an opportunity later in the piece.
The Crusaders were ruthless by comparison. When Elstadt was sin-binned they scored nine points. From there, they continued to pressure the Stormers and with the visitors trailing by 10 points that pressure told, with the Stormers making some basic errors in their own 22. The Crusaders finished this game well but the match was won while Elstadt was in the bin.
There is no denying the Stormers were at a disadvantage having lost both locks, and that they did remarkably well to emerge with a losing bonus point. But looking at the game as a whole and how close they came to recording their first-ever win in Christchurch, they should be disappointed more than anything else.
That it is not a new thing to squander such opportunities should be cause for concern. They had the Sharks on the rack in round two when Ross Skeate was yellow-carded in the 60th minute. They should have closed out the game but only scored three points, and when Skeate returned the Sharks launched a fierce challenge that so nearly forced an upset.
When they hosted the Bulls, the Stormers had a golden opportunity to extend their lead when lock Flip van der Merwe was carded in the 42nd minute. But again they wilted under the pressure, they didn’t seem to enjoy the advantage. They didn’t score again until the 62nd minute. In fact it was the Bulls who scored 10 unanswered points while Van der Merwe was off the field.
The Stormers have shown a lot of guts this season, the manner in which they defend shows their incredible courage under fire. There is a big difference, however, between courage and ruthlessness.
Being brave isn’t enough to win championships. The Stormers need to start showing some killer instinct if they want to be genuine title contenders rather than also-rans.