CAPE TOWN – If the Stormers wanted a remedy to help them forget about the tour to Australasia, then they got just that in the form of victory over the Blues on Saturday.
In fact, they couldn’t have started that remedy recipe any better, as an early, right-after-kick-off try by outside centre EW Viljoen was the first of four tries to the Blues’ three. And those four tries were good ones to look at, too.
But apart from the five-pointers, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck can also be pleased with how his team went at the set-piece. Their line-out was a much-improved product to the one we saw on tour, and their breakdown work - something that was always going to be a big battle - wasn’t a let-down either.
They also looked good with ball in hand. And unlike their outings against the Waratahs, the Crusaders and the Highlanders, they managed to get the reward for their work on attack, something that was missing the last three weeks.
On tour, the Stormers often strung together nice attacks, but it often led to frustration as they failed to convert possession into points, by making it all the way into opposition 22 and then letting the final pass go astray, or turning possession over in whatever other way.
Collectively, as a team, the Stormers looked much, much better on Saturday. And individually, they didn’t disappoint either.
Fullback Dillyn Leyds’ try-creating counter-attacking spell – which led to their second try – should have done enough to pose the question of whether he shouldn’t rather be used at 15, as he has proven to be extremely efficient at the back, with the most recent examples being at Newlands on Saturday and his start at fullback against the Jaguares in their Super Rugby-opener.
That try – a stunning one at that – came after Leyds picked up the ball around his own 22 and stepped his way past a couple of Blues defenders before passing to Pieter-Steph du Toit out wide. The Bok lock, who wore the No 7 jersey yesterday, did well to get out of a tackle and timed his offload to Raymond Rhule on his inside perfectly. Rhule secured the ball and added the finishing touches.
The hosts would have made it a series of three scintillating tries had Nizaam Carr’s dot down after he picked up a charged-down kick after a line-out in opposition 22 been awarded. The try would have been the best tap on the shoulder for Carr, who produced another strong performance in the back row. But the referee had the action reviewed and called offside.
Damien Willemse, the fixture’s Man of the Match, continued his impressive attacking ways as he took the ball to the line and saved his deceptive step until he was right in front of his defenders. He also had a perfect afternoon with the tee and kicked seven out of seven – a particularly impressive stat if you take into account that he didn’t take charge of the kicking duties on tour. SP Marais did, and Willemse could easily have been rusty in that department.
Viljoen also looked good, and wing JJ Engelbrecht was sharp on attack, in spite of one or two defensive errors.
The Blues’ performance wasn’t anything that coach Tana Umaga could be very pleased with – their handling and passing game was way too sloppy, it didn’t look like they had a lot of direction, and about the only impressive thing in their game in the opening half was the intensity with which they went about tackling. And the Stormers? Well, they were simply superb.
The Blues were punished for that lack of appreciation for the ball when Engelbrecht beautifully scooped up a loose ball after a fumbled Blues pass and sprinted from just outside his own 22 and gave a first-class offload to Viljoen, who ran up in support and scored his second try of the match.
The visitors looked tidier in the second half, and managed to score three tries after going into the changeroom with only three points, from a penalty kick. They had more possession, did more with it, but the Stormers’ powerful first-half show proved too much for a Blues comeback.
Although the Stormers didn’t exactly replicate their splendid first-half display after the break, the fact that they managed to perform well to the last minute and not only for one half - like they did on tour against the Crusaders and the Highlanders - certainly is promising. And if we can see more of what we saw at Newlands yesterday against the Reds next week and thereafter, the Stormers can certainly get their campaign back on track.
At a glance
Friday: Chiefs 41, Bulls 28
Saturday: Highlanders 25, Crusaders 17; Brumbies 24, Sharks 17; Stormers 37, Blues 20; Lions v Sunwolves, Jaguares v Reds (late kick-offs)
Sunday: Waratahs v Rebels