CAPE TOWN – The Stormers woke up from their Blues of their tour Down Under to dispatch the New Zealanders 37-20 in emphatic fashion at Newlands on Saturday afternoon.
This is the game where the Stormers found their fire. After weeks of plodding around at Cape Town, Australia and New Zealand, the fierce criticism that came their way appeared to sting the Cape side into action, and they played the Blues off the park at a hot Newlands.
Yes, the Blues have a reputation for being poor travellers, so the optimism in the Stormers camp should be tempered somewhat.
But the Kiwis did beat the Lions at high altitude at Ellis Park last week, and have a Cape cult hero in Sonny Bill Williams, who was expected to weave his magic once more.
Try as he might, though, the All Black No 12 didn’t have the time and space to do his thing. The Stormers’ rush defence worked a treat in closing down the Blues and preventing them from making those dangerous offloads in the tackle, while Damian de Allende barrelled over Williams twice in the first half to lay down his marker that he was here to play.
Despite all the injuries and flu problems this week, this was a different Stormers team. They played with purpose, mixing brute strength with efficiency at the set-pieces and some sparkling cut and thrust with ball-in-hand.
It started virtually from the kickoff, as they won the ball back, with the irrepressible Steven Kitshoff and Dillyn Leyds breaking the line, and JJ Engelbrecht fed EW Viljoen on his inside to go over in the second minute.
Leyds was influential whenever he came into the flyhalf channel to assist the classy Damian Willemse, and it was from one such instance where the Springbok fullback kept the Blues defence guessing with a couple of dummies before finding Pieter-Steph du Toit, who rampaged down the touchline and flipped the ball to Raymond Rhule to finish in the 13th minute.
While Du Toit is arguably a better No 5 lock, he was dynamic in every respect at blindside flank in this match – winning lineouts, putting in big hits on defence, running excellent angles on attack and keeping the ball alive.
The Stormers were unfortunate not to score via Nizaam Carr when Du Toit charged-down a clearing kick in the 22nd minute, with the TMO ruling that Carr was in front of the No 7.
But after Willemse added a penalty to stretch the lead to 17-3, the Stormers struck once more, with Du Toit again at the forefront to punch holes in the Blues defence, which allowed Dewaldt Duvenage to dive over under the posts.
It was slick, exhilarating stuff from a Stormers side that had up to now seemed unsure about how to attack, which defensive system to adopt and slipping tackles, and had a shaky lineout.
All those issues largely disappeared on Saturday, even after big Blues No 8 Akira Ioane forced his way through a flimsy Engelbrecht tackle off a five-metre scrum after halftime.
Engelbrecht made up for his mistake a few minutes later when he intercepted a long pass inside his own half, and while Melani Nanai caught him in the Blues 22, he made the offload for Viljoen to get his second try.
The Blues threatened to derail the Stormers party when fullback Michael Collins and centre Rieko Ioane dotted down within 11 minutes of each other, but Willemse calmed the nerves of the 22 168 spectators with another penalty to secure a well-deserved victory.
Stormers 37 – Tries: EW Viljoen (2), Raymond Rhule, Dewaldt Duvenage. Conversions: Damian Willemse (4). Penalties: Willemse (3).
Blues 20 – Tries: Akira Ioane, Michael Collins, Rieko Ioane. Conversion: Stephen Perofeta (1). Penalty: Bryn Gatland (1).