CAPE TOWN – There were some classy passages of play on the odd occasion, but the Stormers will know that they have a long road ahead to become serious Super Rugby title contenders.
The Cape side held on for a scrappy 28-20 victory over the Jaguares at a sunny Newlands on Saturday, but there was little shine in the play from Robbie Fleck’s men to suggest that they will be in the playoff mix this year.
The Stormers had enough chances to put the result beyond doubt in the first half, but were too over-eager when they broke through the initial line of the Jaguares defence.
And it nearly came back to haunt them as they had to withstand a massive onslaught from the South Americans in the last 15 minutes, after hooker Ramone Samuels was yellow-carded for hands in the ruck close to the Stormers tryline.
That resulted in a seven-man scrum, and the Argentines tried to employ their famed ‘Bajada’ scrumming ploy.
Referee Jaco Peyper awarded a penalty try in the 68th minute to the Jaguares as the Stormers pack disintegrated under pressure, and the visitors were right back in the match at 25-20.
The Jaguares worked their way back into the Stormers 22, and rolled up their sleeves for another series of scrums. But with centre Damian de Allende packing down at flank to help out, the Cape team were rewarded for their fighting spirit when Peyper penalised the Jaguares at the scrum.
That decision seemed to galvanise the Stormers once more, and they managed to play out the last seven minutes for a vital victory.
But they made life difficult for themselves in the first half, and it started when flyhalf Damian Willemse made a sharp little break, but halfback partner Dewaldt Duvenage proceeded to kick the ball away inside the Jaguares’ half.
There were many such instances where the Stormers got in behind the Jaguares’ defence – particularly through electric wing Seabelo Senatla – but the home side didn’t show enough patience with ball-in-hand and tried to force the issue instead of going through one more phase.
Assistant coach Paul Feeney was spot-on with his halftime analysis when he said that his team needed to find the space on the outside instead of over-utilising the inside pass, as it allowed the Jaguares to “catch up” with the line-break or close down the space.
It was a typical early-season game, with passes generally not going to hand. But Damian de Allende showed some neat stepping to score the opening try in the 18th minute when he wrong-footed two defenders to dot down under the posts.
A yellow card to Jaguares fullback Joaquin Tuculet – for coming in from the side – eased the pressure somewhat for the Stormers, and Willemse slotted a penalty for a 10-6 lead.
But out of nowhere, captain Siya Kolisi got the 18 000-odd crowd going with a barnstorming surge up the middle as he swatted away defenders to roar over the line before halftime.
The hosts needed to get on to the scoreboard quickly after the break to settle their nerves, and it came through a wonderfully flowing move from inside their 22.
The ever-influential No 8 Nizaam Carr – who was visibly a yard ahead of his teammates due to his stint at Wasps over the last few months – found the half-gap and put Raymond Rhule into space, and the Springbok wing had enough gas to go all the way for a 22-6 advantage.
But the Jaguares didn’t give up, and missed tackles by Dillyn Leyds and De Allende saw wing Emiliano Boffelli canter over, and then the drama of the yellow card to Samuels saw the Jaguares come back into the game.
So, while Fleck will be relieved to begin the campaign with a victory, a lot of hard work lies ahead next week if they are to be successful on their daunting three-match tour Down Under against the Waratahs, Crusaders and Highlanders.
Stormers 28 – Tries: Damian de Allende, Siya Kolisi, Raymond Rhule. Conversions: Damian Willemse (2). Penalties: Willemse (3).
Jaguares 20 – Tries: Emiliano Boffelli, Penalty Try. Conversion: Nicolas Sanchez (1). Penalties: Sanchez (1), Boffelli (1).