Cape Town — Some moments of individual brilliance papered over the cracks in the Stormers’ attack as they laboured to a 28-14 Champions Cup bonus-point victory over a 13-man London Irish on Sunday.
The home side lost fullback Ben Loader to a red card as early as the 18th minute for making head-to-head contact with Manie Libbok, and then tighthead prop Ciaran Parker got his marching orders in the 43rd minute for cleaning-out Deon Fourie against the head.
Those incidents should have helped the Stormers produce a rampant display but they battled to find their rhythm with ball-in-hand and made a number of unforced handling errors that coach John Dobson was visibly unhappy about pitch-side.
The Capetonians started off well enough with a penalty try in the 14 minute, when a driving maul off a line-out was collapsed by flank Juan Martin Gonzalez, who was given a yellow card for his troubles.
The visitors nearly added another touchdown soon after, but Angelo Davids’ effort was ruled out due to a forward pass by Libbok to him following Ruhan Nel’s excellent line-break.
Then came the first red card, when Loader flew into Libbok in a tackle and made head-to-head contact. Irish coach Les Kiss said in a TV interview that he was “flabbergasted” by the decision, but French referee Ludovic Cayre had little choice but to send Loader off.
Libbok, though, stayed off the field after his head injury assessment, which meant that Junior Springbok captain Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu stayed on at flyhalf, and the young playmaker tried hard to get things going out wide.
But while the United Rugby Championship (URC) champions played with good width, with the likes of Damian Willemse, Davids, Nel and Suleiman Hartzenberg making metres, there were too many knock-ons in contact in the face of a determined Irish defence.
Nel, though, showed his class with a superb read of Irish flyhalf Rory Jennings’ pass to grab the intercept and bring up the second Stormers try on the half-hour mark, which would have settled their nerves a bit more.
The best moment of the match for captain Steven Kitshoff’s team came just before half-time, when the Bishops duo of Feinberg-Mngomezulu and Hartzenberg combined superbly down the right.
The replacement pivot delivered a lovely left-foot grubber kick that bounced awkwardly, and Hartzenberg snatched the ball in the air to round off.
At 21-0, it was a comfortable lead, and Dobson would have expected his team to drill home their advantage even further when Parker saw red for making contact with Fourie’s head in a ruck clean-out.
They got a lucky bounce from Dan du Plessis’ kick-through, which saw Davids go all the way in the 47th minute, but that was as good as it got for the Cape side.
The Exiles showed greater determination in the final half-an-hour, and got onto the scoreboard through a penalty try when Kitshoff collapsed a driving maul that resulted in a yellow card for the No 1.
The Stormers kept trying to breach the Irish defence, but the mistakes continued to stop them in their tracks, with their second half summed up by Nel losing control of the ball over the line in the final minute.
Irish prop Danilo Fischetti got a consolation try that was just reward for their endeavours, and while the visitors will be delighted with the win, Dobson will hope for a much better performance against Clermont in Cape Town next Saturday.
London Irish 14 – Tries: Penalty Try, Danilo Fischetti. Conversion: Rory Jennings (1).
Stormers 28 – Tries: Penalty Try, Ruhan Nel, Suleiman Hartzenberg, Angelo Davids. Conversions: Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu (3).