Super Rugby 2018
Stormers – Blues
Final Score: Stormers 37 – Blues 20
Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Cwengile Jadezweni (South Africa)
TMO: Christie du Preez (South Africa)
When we compare this game to two played over in New Zealand, the Chiefs vs the Bulls, and the Highlanders vs the Crusaders, we are not comparing apples with apples.
Those two games in Aotearoa produced some great rugby by all four sides involved. These were games where all four teams played a modern, open style of running rugby, with games that went right down to the wire. For those that went to the two grounds to watch the games live, and for those of us that tuned in on our television sets, these were richly rewarding games to watch.
This was what Super Rugby is supposed to be all about.
The Stormers vs the Blues was not a closely fought game that went down to the wire. It was a game where the Stormers pitched up with single-minded ferocity, and the Blues failed to pitch up at all for long stretches of the game.
Yet, in my less-than-humble opinion, it was a very good game of rugby. Another example of all things that are good in the game I love.
Let me explain:
Many rugby aficionados gave the Stormers no chance whatsoever. The bookies made the Blues the odds-on favourites. The media followed suit.
They were a team reeling like a boxer who had taken too many punches. A horrid three match tour of Australasia had ended with three losses from three starts. Injuries had hammered the team before they left South Africa for their trip overseas. Injuries hammered them even harder whilst they were in Australia and New Zealand.
On their return to South Africa, more than half the playing squad were poorly, hit by a serious flu bug. During the week before the game against the Blues the majority of the squad were too ill to participate in the physical side of practices. Things were not looking good.
If ever there was a team that had the perfect excuse for losing their next fixture or perhaps even a couple of fixtures, it was the Stormers.
And yet, they did not!
They did not succumb to the inevitable defeat so many were predicting. They did not succumb to the easy option. They could have done so, they could have put up a token resistance to the Blues and then rolled over and taken defeat on the chin. Many would have forgiven them for a defeat too; expecting a win when the odds were so heavily stacked against the team would be unreasonable at best.
This Stormers outfit took to the field on Saturday and produced a performance that was remarkable in its resilience. Remarkable in its commitment, focus, physicality and, dare I say it, exuberance.
They tore into the visiting Blues with a ferocity the visitors certainly did not expect, and simply could not handle. The Blues were rocked back on their collective heels, and the self-doubt that has plagued them for the last five or six years was quickly evident again. I was almost a physical thing, the wide eyes, the grim faces, the surprise, and the doubts.
This Blues outfit had disposed on the Lions at Ellis Park just one week earlier. They had shown a resilience of their own, a focus, and some real mongrel to claw their way back into the game and then take down the much-fancied Lions.
They arrived at Newlands brim-full of confidence, aided and abetted by the knowledge that they were facing a team that was down to its very last reserves in certain positions.
That confidence simply evaporated in the laser-like intensity of the Stormers’ game.
Any hopes the Blues had of winning back-to-back matches in South Africa for the first time in a decade were gone in the first 30 minutes of Stormers ferocity.
In truth, they were never in the game against the Stormers after they conceded three converted tries in just over half an hour. There was no coming back this time, this was not going to be Ellis Park and the Lions.
The Blues rallied a little in the second half, scoring tries through Akira Ioane, Rieko Ioane and Michael Collins, but even those tries did not represent a swing in fortunes for the Blues, it was simply evidence of a Stormers team that was finally feeling the effects of a three week tour, the injury load, and the flu-ridden week that was.
There was one oddity in this game, the two teams took to the field wearing remarkably similar colours, something that should surely have been resolved by the referee before the game kicked off. The Stormers played in their well-known blue and white home strip, and the Blues played in, well, their usual blue. When the Stormers play away from home and there is a chance that their kit might clash with that of the home side, they have an alternative white strip. The Blues apparently do not have an alternative to their blues.
Whilst many are a little surprised at the Stormers performance, talking of their guts and determination and all such good things, I have to say that it was really not that unexpected.
In my preview to this game I made mention of the fact that the Stormers might have lost both their games in New Zealand, yet each of those losses had been marked by a fighting spirit that boded well for the future.
They went down to the Crusaders on the back of a remarkable 20-minute opening blitz by the ‘Saders, but fought back to actually win the next 60-minute period of the game, albeit too late to claw back the deficit from those 20 minutes.
A week later they again went down fighting to the Highlanders in Dunedin.
This is not a Stormers side that can be taken lightly. They will fight, right to the end.
There were some stand-out performers in a great team performance.
Damian Willemse had a perfect day as flyhalf and kicker. He took the game to the Blues, bringing his backs into the contact area at speed and on the front foot, and his goal kicking was superlative. The only hesitation that I have is that he still has the tendency to try and do too much on his own. Just one or two dummies and sidesteps too many.
He was well supported by Damian de Allende at inside centre. The big fellow is showing signs of the form he had in 2015 when he was one of the rugby players of the year. He completely overshadowed Sonny Bill Williams, and there are not many that can claim to have done that. He stopped Williams in his tracks, forcing him upright and onto the back-foot in the tackle, smothering many of his trademark offloads and short passes. He also broke Williams’ tackles at will and had him guessing on defence.
He has also started to carry the ball with power and purpose, as well as linking both inside and out. He has to be the form 12 in South African rugby again. I am looking forward to seeing him link up with Jesse Kriel again, the two were brilliant as a midfield combination in the early Tests of 2015, and then, inexplicably, were split apart by Heyneke Meyer and then Allister Coetzee.
Peter-Steph du Toit had an enormous game. He was simply everywhere, on attack, on defence, in the lineouts and scrums, in the rucks and mauls, and then running the wide channels as the Stormers adopted the New Zealand midfield attack pattern.
Steven Kitshoff and Wilco Louw were good all over the park, while Ramone Samuels had the best game I have seen him play as hooker. JJ Engelbrecht has never been my favourite as a centre, I find him one dimensional with the ball in hand, but he had a very good game out on the wing. Industrious and ever-willing, and that pop-pass off the ground to EW Viljoen was as good as it gets.
I may mention some names, but the reality was that this was a team effort, and that is what it will be remembered for. I will not bore you with statistics, the Stormers dominated all the categories that counted.
It was a richly deserved victory for a Stormers team which performed above the expectations of many, but did not surprise me at all.
Tries: Viljoen 2, Rhule, Duvenhage
Cons: Willemse 4
Pens: Willemse 3
Tries: A Ioane, Collins, R Ioane
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 JJ Engelbrecht, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian De Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 Cobus Wiese, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Justin Phillips, 23 Craig Barry
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Antonio Kiri Kiri, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ross Wright, 18 Mike Tamoaieta, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 George Moala