THEY staggered into Pretoria with barely a team, and a sick captain who had spent the whole week in bed.
But the Stormers didn’t let those circumstances prevent them from pulling off an epic 19-14 win over the Bulls on Saturday night.
Missing from the action were Schalk Burger, Andries Bekker, Duane Vermeulen, Joe Pietersen, Steven Kitshoff, Nick Koster, Nizaam Carr, Gary van Aswegen … and so we could go on.
But as coach Allister Coetzee said afterwards, the Stormers never gave up in spite of a malfunctioning lineout and a few questionable refereeing decisions that threatened to derail the Cape side.
The Bulls’ try, scored by captain Pierre Spies, should never have been awarded as Stormers prop Deon Carstens clearly got his boot under the ball and prevented Spies from grounding it.
De Villiers was visibly unhappy with some of the penalties that referee Jonathan Kaplan had awarded at the rucks and a few mauls, when it looked like some Bulls players had detached.
One could argue that Stormers tighthead prop Frans Malherbe’s yellow card for a dangerous tackle may have been a bit harsh too. In turn, Kaplan did not dish out a yellow card to Bulls youngster Arno Botha for a dangerous tackle on Bryan Habana, only awarding a penalty to the Stormers.
A Sanzar citing commissioner decided yesterday to give Botha an off-field yellow card.
Stormers flank Rynhardt Elstadt was also issued with an off-field yellow card for “an act contrary to good sportsmanship” when he pulled Bulls wing Akona Ndungane’s hair.
As it is his third yellow card, Elstadt will have to face a Sanzar disciplinary hearing.
But now the Stormers can enjoy the three-week break on top of the SA conference and just four points behind the Chiefs on the overall log.
It was a huge defensive display, interspersed with some cracking movements with ball-in-hand and the sound boot of Peter Grant. “I think it’s a great result for us. It’s always a big challenge to beat the Bulls at Loftus. It’s one thing you can never underestimate, especially for youngsters who made their debut in this game – to come to Loftus for the first time and win – players like Nick Fenton-Wells, Deon Carstens, it’s really massively important. I think it’s a special effort by the team,” Coetzee said.
“Really, you people don’t understand – it’s never easy to come to Loftus to win here. Technical and tactical things, you’ve got to forget about that and front (up), and play with heart. That is what the Stormers did in this game, and that’s the biggest challenge at Loftus.
“And for that, I’ve got a lot of respect for Jean (de Villiers) and the team – all 22 of them, that they never gave up. The Bulls were always going to come at us, so it was a matter of who is going to stop giving, and the Stormers never lied down. That, to me, is the most important thing.”
Stormers defence coach Jacques Nienaber drills the players during practices, and they’ve got his systems down to such a fine art that Coetzee revealed that it started becoming easier for Siya Kolisi and Co to stop the Bulls’ big runners such as Pierre Spies, Flip van der Merwe and Dean Greyling. Virtually the entire Stormers side never stopped tackling.
“We had nice rhythm with stopping their momentum,” the coach said. “The Bulls are a momentum-based side, and once you stop their momentum, it becomes easier for our defensive system to get numbers on their feet again.”
Habana’s try to win the game was a wonderfully constructed touchdown, starting with Deon Fourie’s turnover on the ground. “It’s just a quality that Deon Fourie has. He is built low to the ground and has a good technique,” Coetzee said. “And unbelievable, unbelievable inside pass by Siya!
“I think what we achieved as a team is to know how to win games. Irrespective of scoring tries and getting bonus points, but a team that knows how to win. That is what we want to do – do what we do well, and we’ve done that. We defended well, we at times kicked well, and when we had the opportunity, we took it.”
The coach added that Eben Etzebeth’s AC joint problem in his shoulder is not serious enough to rule him out of Saturday’s Bok Test against England.
The Stormers will also be able to welcome back Burger for their next game against the Lions at Newlands on June 30, as well as Pietersen, Kitshoff and Koster.
However, No 8 Duane Vermeulen will be out for longer with his knee injury, possibly only in time for the playoffs. Bekker will also be assessed again in four weeks’ time.