Stormers stem Red tide

JON CARDINELLI watched the Stormers repel a late Reds rally to record an impressive 23-13 win in Brisbane.

The Stormers continue to deliver in the face of trying circumstances. They went into this game without Schalk Burger, Jean de Villiers or Andries Bekker, and still they managed to play with the composure and resolve needed to topple the best Super Rugby has to offer.

Some will argue that the Stormers should have put this Reds side away by more, as the Queenslanders suffered some serious injuries early in the piece. Coach Ewen McKenzie would have been feeling a sick sense of deja vu as flyhalf Sam Lane and then centre Ben Tapuai left the field inside the first 10 minutes. At that point the Reds were already 10-0 down, and were battling for any sort of momentum.

But to dismiss the Reds’ effort under these circumstances would also detract from the Stormers’ achievement. The Reds fought hard to stay in the game, and as the clock wound down in the second half, the visitors were made to fight just as hard to keep the Reds at arm’s length.

At times the Stormers attacked with confidence and purpose, but it was another fantastic forward effort and titanic defensive display that earned them an important win. The Cape heavies made an impression at the collisions from the first minute, and maintained that intensity throughout. It was at the point of contact where they troubled the Reds, and in many instances created attacking opportunities.

It didn’t matter that the Stormers struggled for territory. The Reds pack battled to build momentum from the scrum and at the collisions, and the Stormers were quick to pounce on a turnover and unleash a backline that was in a mood to counter-attack.

It was a turnover that allowed the Stormers to win a lineout deep in the Reds’ half in the 10th minute. Juan de Jongh crashed it up before Peter Grant attacked the line. Grant then effected a telling offload in the tackle to Gio Aplon, and at 10-0 the visitors had raced to a good lead.

The Reds managed to settle as the half progressed, but showed a lack of discipline in that crucial period just before half-time. A penalty attempt by Ben Lucas dropped short and the Stormers ran it back at a disorganised Reds defence until they were deep in the opposition 22. Some terrific skills allowed the Stormers to keep the ball alive, and from a later phase Grant sniped again, reached for the tryline, and scored.

At 17-3 it appeared to be all over for the shell-shocked Reds. McKenzie had gone into this match with five forwards on his bench and the early injuries to Lane and Tapuai had forced him to field both of his backline reserves. The Reds were hanging on at half-time.

The Stormers showed their composure in the second stanza. It wasn’t a case of defending a 14-point lead, but more a case of understanding that the Reds were battling to trouble their forwards. And as the game continued, the Reds did indeed become more desperate.

The hosts had their chances to narrow the deficit, and turned down a few shots at goal in favour of a crack at the tryline. The decision proved flawed as Rob Simmons lost the ball over the line, and the Stormers defence managed to clear from a subsequent scrum. This was but one of many instances where a Reds venture into Stormers territory culminated in a frustrating turnover.

It was far from a perfect showing from the Stormers, and while their leaders pulled them through they missed Andries Bekker’s management skills at the lineout.

The visitors’ blew a few early opportunities through lineout turnovers in good attacking positions. They also gifted a try to James Horwill in the 63rd minute when replacement hooker Deon Fourie missed his jumper at a set piece five metres from his own tryline.

But the Reds never looked like closing the gap. Their desperation grew as the full-time hooter drew close, and they passed up a shot at goal in favour of another dip at the tryline.

Again it ended in a turnover. They managed to win another penalty which Mike Harris duly slotted, but then they blew any chance of a draw or indeed a losing bonus point when they conceded a three-pointer at the other end of the park.

The Stormers still lack the killer instinct to be considered a real title prospect, but what is clear is that there is a tremendous belief in their playing pattern.

Their defence was the difference on this occasion and takes them to two wins from three tour matches. With only the Force to play, they have a good chance of making that record three from four and stretching their lead at the top of the South African conference.