The DHL Stormers made it two from three on their Australasian tour as they ground out a hard fought but deserved 16-3 win over the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday.
It was the Stormers’ first win at the Brumbies’ home-ground, and only their third in 14 starts against the Australian franchise, so there was reason for the Stormers to feel satisfied with the four points that consolidates their position on top of the South African Super Rugby conference.
There were hopes of a four try bonus point before the game but it quickly became apparent that the Stormers should just be satisfied to get away with the win, for as skipper Schalk Burger admitted afterwards, the conditions didn’t really favour attacking rugby. It was cold, with the two sets of reserves sending out their own little mini-weather report to those watching on television as they huddled together, shivering.
It also needs to be pointed out that this wasn’t the soft-touch Brumbies team that has lost most of the other games they have played on their home ground this season. They didn’t look like they had much belief in the early stages, and the Stormers had them in early trouble with their attempts to keep ball in hand.
Maybe if the Stormers had managed to get through in those initial minutes they would have run away with the game more than they did. And they might also contend that referee Marius Jonker’s decision to deny Jaque Fourie a try because he made contact with another player going back for a rolling ball was marginal. The Australian commentators felt it was a try.
Francois Louw was also almost in the clear a couple of minutes later after Bryan Habana had set up an impressive long range attack off a switch that put Gio Aplon through down the middle, but he coughed the ball up.
But the longer the Brumbies kept the Stormers from crossing their line so their confidence grew, and though you could always see they were being out-muscled by their opponents and were making little headway as the Stormers dominated the collisions, they did draw first blood through a Christian Lealiifano penalty that put the Brumbies ahead 3-0 after nine minutes.
New Stormers flyhalf Kurt Coleman, starting for the first time in the absence of Peter Grant, Gary van Aswegen and Lionel Cronje because of injury, had missed the first attempt of the game three minutes earlier, but it had been from near halfway.
Coleman is the fourth choice Stormers flyhalf (maybe even fifth because coach Allister Coetzee told the Australian commentary team that Sam Lane would have played had he not been injured) so it was understandable that he was a bit nervous. But he was way too nervous to be effective, and although he held onto the passes in the end he did fumble once or twice and appeared to be the standing way too deep.
Perhaps this led to the Stormers losing confidence in him, for many of their moves appeared to avoid him which meant he was essentially on the field to kick goals. A flyhalf is supposed to be the key decision maker and director on attack, so this did impact negatively on the Stormers’ attacking game and it is a big concern for them as they head towards the big derby against the Bulls in two weeks.
But on a history making day for the Stormers it was not a day for dwelling on the negatives, and Coleman did kick his remaining attempts in the first half to overturn the deficit and take a 6-3 lead at the break.
In the second half of the first half, with the Brumbies suddenly looking confident and perhaps not missing their injured captain Matt Giteau as much as would have been expected, the home side did have quite a lot of the ball. But although they did occasionally encourage their crowd by wriggling through the half gap, generally they were blanketed by the impressive Stormers defensive game.
The Stormers did finish the last seven minutes of the half looking the team in more control, however, and so it was not a surprise when they finally did open a gap through a Francois Louw try five minutes after the break.
The Stormers had set themselves up for the score through a series of penalties which they kicked for touch, the first because of a Brumbies scrum infringement not far from the Stormers line. Their lineout work wasn’t always perfect, and one lineout went against the throw, but another penalty gave them a chance to set up inside the Brumbies 22.
A clean take led to a series of drives near the Brumbies line which eventually saw Louw barging over. The Coleman conversion made it 13-3 and with the Stormers’ defence being so impregnable, it really was difficult to see the Stormers losing after that. They had their chances to put the issue beyond doubt but just couldn’t get across the line.
However a big driving maul from a lineout following a lengthy period where the Brumbies had attacked netted a penalty that Gio Aplon kicked to pretty much make sure of the four points 10 minutes from time. The difficulties the Brumbies had trying to make inroads into the Stormers defensive system can be gauged from the almost five minute and 32 phase attack that got them nowhere other than eating up precious time in the final minutes of the game.
Coleman was replaced by Jean de Villiers early in the second half, with Dewaldt Duvenage moving to flyhalf from scrumhalf, where Ricky Januarie came on. Duane Vermeulen finished the game but not before Nick Koster had made a good first start of the season, showing up well on attack.
Stormers 16 – Try: Francois Louw; Conversion: Kurt Coleman; Penalties: Kurt Coleman 2 and Gio Aplon.
Brumbies 3 – Penalty: Christian Lealiifano.