Stormers down turgid Tahs

JON CARDINELLI reports on a comfortable if not convincing 19-13 win for the Stormers against an uninspired and fallible Waratahs mob.

If we know anything about the Stormers, it’s that they win consistently without winning by large margins. The final scoreline on Saturday was again in the Stormers’ favour, and again it wasn’t a fair reflection of the Cape side’s dominance of proceedings.

Nor did it tell the story of an insipid and at times rudderless Waratahs display. The visitors came into this match with the aim to pressure the Stormers through an accurate tactical kicking game, but the ploy was largely overdone. Their kick chase was poor and their physicality at the collisions was largely inferior to that of the Stormers.

The way the first half developed, some optimistic Stormers fans may have hoped that the game wouldn’t pan out as many had predicted. The manner in which the Stormers executed in the first 40 minutes was impressive, and despite earlier expectations of a dour, forward-oriented contest in wet conditions, the Stormers were two tries up before the break.

Their first venture into the Waratahs’ 22 yielded the desired result. A clean take at the lineout provided the backline with clean ball, and Dewaldt Duvenage found Gio Aplon with a great inside ball. The next phase saw the Waratahs defence stretched, as some quick hands by Peter Grant and Jean de Villiers created the space for Joe Pietersen to score.

Try No 2 was again the product of a fine forward platform. The Stormers won the set piece and hammered away at the Waratahs from close range, opening up a blindside on the right. The ball was moved quickly through the hands again, and this time it was Eben Etzebeth, who also did more than his fair share in the tight, who contributed with a deft final pass to Tiaan Liebenberg.

The Stormers continued to apply the pressure and collected a three-pointer right before the half-time buzzer. If this was any other team, you would have expected them to ram the advantage home. Despite the conditions, they should have kept their foot on the pedal and collected two more tries (at least) via a superior forward effort.

But almost on cue, the Stormers lapsed right after the break. The Waratahs exposed some slack defending in midfield and Rob Horne eventually finished in the right-hand corner. A conversion and a further penalty by scrumhalf Brendan McKibbin brought the score to 16-13, and almost unbelievably, the Waratahs were back in the game.

The Waratahs were guilty of indiscipline as well as a lack of physicality at the collisions and breakdown. It impacted on their continuity, and their overriding tendency to kick, aimlessly and with little hope of regaining possession, cost them dearly.

They were a beaten side in the first half, and they failed to take the opportunity that was presented to them early in the second stanza. Apart from their wayward kicking, they conceded possession on several occasions when they were within sight of the Stormers’ tryline. Their attack in 2012 hasn’t been great, and this performance at Newlands should be viewed as a sign of regression rather than progression.

The Stormers eventually won this encounter by six points, but will feel disappointed that they did not win by more. Before this game they would have taken any kind of win against a traditionally physical team like the Waratahs, but given the way the Stormers dominated early in the piece, it was unforgivable that they once again failed to build on a good start.

What Allister Coetzee and co will be pleased about is that the result has propelled them to the top of the overall log. With the Bulls losing to the Highlanders in Dunedin and the Stormers beating the Waratahs, the Cape side has finished the round in pole position.