Super Rugby 2018
Crusaders vs Stormers
Final Score: Crusaders 45 – Stormers 28
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Way back in the dim and distant past, in the days before Cheetahs and Lions, before Rebels and Chiefs, when Crusaders were a bunch of people set on slaughtering all those of any religion other than their own, there was a rugby team called the Orange Free State. They were a powerful force in South African rugby.
Back in those days, the Currie Cup was the premier domestic rugby competition in the whole wide world, and that Free State team was one of the top dogs. In the mid-1970’s they played in 5 Curie Cup finals in six years, and won they the trophy in 1976. They were a great side, loaded with Springboks and near-Springboks. Great names such as Joggie Jansen and his brother Eben, Barry Wolmerans, Gysie Pienaar, Gerrie Germishuys and Hennie Becker, Rampie Stander and Dannie Gerber.. Springboks one and all.
That Free State side were known for a very special tactic. They called it the “Wit Blitz,” translating to White Lightning. Sometimes it was known as the White Tornado. (Allan Donald, the great South Africa fast bowler, was only ten years old in 1976 and would inherit the White Lightning name a couple of decades later, but this was a time when rugby ruled in the Free State.)
Whatever you chose to call it, Lightning or Tornado, the effect was the same. The Free State started every game they played with the speed and intensity, the sheer ferocity of an epic lightning storm and tornado. The first fifteen to twenty minutes of every game was as a rugby performance of all-out attack, at a pace unknown in those days and played with a furious intensity and focus that bewildered and broke many of their opponents.
Their intent was clear, they would use those first 20 minutes to build an unassailable lead on the score-board. They would establish a mental and physical edge, a clear superiority over their opponents. Once their opponents were on the back-foot, it was very very difficult to get back into the game again.
It was wonderful stuff to watch! The Free Staters used their mobile and powerful forwards, an immensely talented backline and the deft hands and passing, and the siege gun boot of one of the great flyhalves of the era, De Wet Ras, to pin the opposition in their own 22, and then throw the ball around while running at immense pace, with great stepping and swerving to score try after try.
It was a portend of things to come two decades later when the Super Rugby competition was invented. The pace, the innovation, and the ferocity that were hallmarks of the Super 10 and Super 12 found their roots back in that Free State team of the 1970’s.
I digress, we are in the year 2018, some 42 years later and talking about Super Rugby. There is method in my digression, this history lesson is used to illustrate exactly what happened in Christchurch on Saturday.
There was a certain sense of déjà vu watching the Crusaders come out of the starting blocks with a pace, intensity, and ferocity vaguely reminiscent of that White Tornado of the 1970’s.
They simply swept the Stormers aside in a 20-minute blitz that gave them a 26-0 lead from which there was never going to be a comeback for the Cape-based team. Memories of the demolition derby that was the same game in 2017 reared up in everyone’s mind.
To their eternal credit, the Stormers slowly, surely, clawed their way back into the game, but their chance of an unlikely win had been shattered during that 20-minute Crusader invasion. The Stormers discipline held, they refocussed and took to playing a more direct style of rugby than is their norm, they took the ball up through the forwards, playing around the fringes and into the close channels, those spaces where the Crusaders were a little vulnerable. Once they started to put phases together. they were back in the game.
It took some time to get over the collective shock of those 20-minutes and then, just as the visitors were finding their feet and getting onto the scoreboard, the Crusaders managed to score again, just before half-time.
Lesser teams would have folded after that hammer blow just before the break, but the Stormers are mentally stronger than they were a year ago. They came back into the game, a completely different team in the second half. From the re-start they put on the pressure; after a clever box kick, a great gather, some clever passing and running, a quick recycle and Wilco Louw powered over the line from close range.
The Stormers dominated possession and territory in the second half. They fought back with another try to bring the score to 21-31. They started to gain the upper hand in the scrums, something that never happens against the Crusaders! They started to win the collisions! The game became more and more interesting and competitive!
The Crusaders showed their champions credentials by coming straight back at the visitors. Two tries and they stretched their lead back to 45-21.
But the Stormers were still not prepared to throw in the towel! They rallied again! They powered back with a try by their strongman, Steven Kitshoff who ignored a bunch of tacklers to score against the base of the post.
The Stormers kept up the pressure and were unlucky not to score one or two more as they showed that they had learned the lessons of the 2016 quarterfinal and the 2017 loss to the Crusaders. They were not going to give up!
When the stats for the game are analysed we see that the Stormers actually won the last 60 minutes of the game, but it was those first 20 that really counted.
This was a fascinating game of rugby to watch. It illustrated the power of the Crusaders, yet it showed that the Stormers, and other South African teams, were learning, adapting, and earning their spurs. Eddie Jones said that it took the All Blacks 8 years to learn to be the side they are now.
It takes time to lose old habits and learn new ones, it takes time to gain the confidence, to the polish skills, to build that special never-say-die mongrel. On the evidence of Saturday’s game against the Crusaders, the Stormers are getting there!
In the end, the 17-point victory margin was all thanks to that first twenty-minute Crusader Tornado.
Tries: Bridge 2, Taylor, Harmon, Hall, Tamanivalu, Mo’unga
Cons: Mo’unga 5
Yellow Card: Harmon
Tries: Van Rensburg, Louw, Schickerling, Kitshoff
Cons: SP Marais 3, Whitehead
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Peter Samu, 5 Samuel Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Chris King, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele
Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Dillyn Leyds, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg
Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Kobus van Dyk, 22 Justin Phillips, 23 George Whitehead