Stormers finish first at fortress Newlands

JON CARDINELLI watched the Stormers beat the Rebels 26-21 to secure top spot in the Super Rugby league.

The result guarantees the Stormers a home semi-final, as well as home advantage should they advance to the title-decider on 4 August. It also wraps up an undefeated league campaign at Newlands, the most recent win marking their eighth successive victory on this ground.

That it was an inconsistent and scrappy performance is not up for debate. The Stormers spent more than half of the game in their own territory, repelling wave after wave after Rebels attack.

It was during the second and third quarters of the match that the Stormers struggled to clear the ball beyond the halfway line. At the same time, it was during these periods of play that they showcased their determination on defence, with men like No 8 Deon Fourie turning the Rebels over at the breakdown.

The Rebels failed to score a point in the first half despite spending 24 minutes in Stormers territory. It took 11 minutes of hammering away at the Stormers’ defence in the second stanza before they finally earned some reward through Rodney Blake’s try.

The Stormers have struggled in the third quarter all season, giving away some big leads but somehow still managing to win the game. This clash was no different in that the Stormers leaked 14 points in the 20 minutes after half-time, Blake and Nick Phipps touching down for the visitors and Julian Huxley adding the extras.

The hosts finally managed to escape their own territory when Bryan Habana claimed a kickoff and set up a great attacking platform. The Stormers took the ball through the phases before Peter Grant found Juan de Jongh on the switch, and the centre managed to elude the cover defence for his second try of the game.

Grant’s conversion took the Stormers to a nine-point lead, but again the substantial buffer seemed to do more harm than good. The Rebels continued to come at the Stormers, and when the visitors found Cooper Vuna in space, the Wallabies winger scored to help narrow the deficit to just two points.

The only way the Stormers were capable of moving into the opposition’s half was via the kickoff. Once again, the Stormers responded to a Rebels strike with one of their own, a determined attacking surge culminating in a penalty goal for Grant. With only five minutes to play, it was a goal that gave the Stormers some breathing room.

But the Cape side finished in nervous fashion, and were fortunate that a Rebels knock on in the 22m area handed them possession with three minutes to play. From there, they managed to kill the clock, win the game, and secure safe passage to the semi-finals.