Two Lachlan Turner tries scored from chip kicks earned the Waratahs a 12-6 win over the Vodacom Stormers at the Sydney Football Stadium on Saturday that may well have finally extinguished any lingering semi-final aspirations for the Cape team.
The Turner tries came in the sixth minute and the 76th, and were essentially the difference between the two teams on another of those nights where the two defensive systems cancelled each other out to the extent that there was hardly any rugby played.
Certainly for the bulk of the 70 minutes between the two Turner tries it was hard to get enthusiasm up as a spectator, with neither side ever looking like attaining any momentum. The defences were organised, the breakdowns were ferociously contested, and this brought about a stalemate.
The first Turner try came after a poor clearing kicking from Stormers flyhalf Peter Grant. The Waratahs ran it back from halfway, Turner chipped and gathered, when in and out of a few Stormers defenders and scored the try that ensured that the Waratahs were never headed in the game.
The Waratahs could have won the game a lot more comfortably had new flyhalf Daniel Halangahu had his place-kicking boots on. He missed three penalty attempts, and then later a conversion was missed too, and it could have cost the Waratahs.
By contrast, Grant was on target with his first kick at goal, shaving the upright from almost in front, but shaving it on the right side of the post as it deflected inwards for the three pointer. That made it 7-3 after 23 minutes.
After the Waratahs had most of the territory for the first 20 minutes, the game evened out after that, and just before half-time the Stormers were becoming far more successful at getting their hands on the ball.
The problem though was that they just couldn’t hold onto it long enough to maintain pressure on the Waratahs. An example came in the 36th minute, with the Stormers launching an excellent buildup in which the ball was taken through phase after phase, only for Wicus Blaauw to make an elementary handling error just as the tryline was within diving distance.
Was this a product of the Stormers’ poor skill levels or the Waratahs’ excellent defence? I would say there were elements of both, for the normally skilful Schalk Brits did precisely the same thing later on.
The Australian commentary team counted seven Waratahs turn-overs of Stormers ball, a telling statistic which becomes even telling when you note that almost all of them were inside the Waratahs’ 22 metre area.
Not for the first time this season, the Stormers also gave away too many scrumming penalties, which was something else that prevented them from imposing themselves and building up any momentum on attack.
They did try to run the ball from their own half on a couple of occasions, but against an organised defence like the Waratahs it was never going to go anywhere, particularly as the Stormers so often seemed flat footed and their passing game seemed to consist almost entirely of long passes that were frequently misdirected or dropped.
It happened often to the Waratahs too, which suggests that maybe Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus had a point last week when he said that two good defensive teams can have the effect of cancelling each other out. It did appear to happen on this occasion, with the Stormers well in the game going into the last minutes after Grant had cut the deficit to just one point with another penalty.
That though was before the moment of magic from Waratahs replacement Kurtley Beale, who wrong-footed the Stormers defenders in launching himself through a gap from deep inside his own half and his chip ahead gave the pacy Turner the opportunity to outsprint a tired Stormers cover defence.
The best of the Stormers players was again Luke Watson, and with the possible exception of Duane Vermeulen and replacement lock Francois Louw, it would not be too unkind to suggest he was the only Stormers player who really display the level of desperation in his approach that the Stormers’ log situation demanded.
Waratahs 12 – Tries: Lachlan Turner 2 (6th minute and 76th); Daniel Halangahu conversion.
Stormers 6 – Penalties: Peter Grant 2.