The Stormers did look much better in the second half as they fought back from being 26-0 down in the first quarter and managed to ultimately score 28 points to the Crusaders’ 45. Four tries to seven. They showed some good character when they played from the other side of the field.
But let’s be realistic – to be proud of the Stormers for their performance against the Crusaders, or happy about the fact that they succeeded in limiting the damage on the scoreboard, would be a prime example of supporting mediocrity even though many probably expected an easy 50 for the New Zealanders.
The Stormers were always, and undoubtedly, going to be the underdogs in this fixture. After all, it’s the Crusaders, and the Stormers’ disappointing defeat to the Waratahs in Sydney last week didn’t score them any points with the bookies going into this match either.
And during that first half it looked like the Stormers were in for a whipping that would make even last year’s 57-24 beating at the AMI Stadium look respectable.
In the first half, the Crusaders were their ruthless selves. They put big pressure on the visitors and that job was made just too easy by the Stormers as they made way too many mistakes – mistakes that the Crusaders will always punish you for. Their recycling was lightning quick. They played with width. Their support play was stunning.
The Cape side’s line-out – the No1 reason for their failure in Sydney – was depressing right from the start again. And the Crusaders? Well, you didn’t have to ask them twice to capitalise, and they did just that with the possession the opposition gifted them at the set-piece and it finished in a try after a fantastic over-the-top, loping long pass by Jack Goodhue to George Bridge. And that wasn’t the only Stormers' line-out glitch.
While the line-out was a clear problem for Robbie Fleck’s team, they also looked disorganised on defence, with panic evident. They had very little possession early on, and even when they did have the ball, they didn’t look after it.
They were impatient, and that saw them cough up possession and nullify any promising play. They weren’t great in the battle on the ground, and also seemed to have forgotten their basics.
But there were also positives.
In the second half, as soon as it kicked off, they had more possession. And they did more with it. They looked after the ball better. There were some good, threatening plays by the backline and Damian de Allende, in particular, had a good outing. He gave us a reason to think that maybe, just maybe, that form of 2015 that has been missing ever since is starting to return.
The Stormers scrum became more dominant as the game progressed and all four of their tries were scored by the men up front.
But even in the second half, for them it was still about limiting damage rather than causing an upset. A win for the Stormers was never expected, and while they should lament that opening half, they should go into their match against the Highlanders next week with a little more confidence than with what they would have entered this one.