The DHL Stormers did to the Sharks at Mr Price Kings Park on Saturday night pretty much what is usually done to them over the years at the Durban venue when they won their big Super Rugby derby match 16-6.
The win, which denied the Sharks a bonus point, effectively allowed the Stormers to take a stranglehold on the South African conference log table, and they are now two wins ahead of the Bulls and three ahead of the Sharks, who have now lost three in succession and have lost the ground they had made with their excellent start to the season.
After being bossed by the Bulls and Sharks in the collisions in two major finals last year, the Stormers needed to make an early season statement – which they have done now after effectively beating both the Sharks and the Bulls on their home field at their own game.
The Stormers were never headed in the match and once they took a 10 point lead in the first half there was never any serious threat to their advantage or to the likelihood that they would win the game. By their own admission they would probably admit they could have played better in some aspects of their play than they did, but they just brought too much to the game for a Sharks team that has played four matches in in four different countries over the past four weeks.
With two of their biggest rivals in their conference, the Sharks and the Bulls, both having succumbed to the Stormers at home and with visits to Cape Town in their future, the Stormers have made a massive stride forward.
But in keeping with his players’ lack of euphoria at the final whistle, Stormers coach Allister Coetzee was very measured in the post-match press conference.
“I was very happy with the team’s resilience and the composure we showed, again this was a match that showed we have grown mentally since last year,” said Coetzee.
“But there is still a long way to go in this competition. The rugby is really physical and intense, and we all know that at some stage of the tournament our depth will be tested.”
By common consensus the Stormers lost their two games here last season because, to put it simply, they just didn’t pitch. In this game they did pitch, and instead of the Sharks doing the early dictating it was the Stormers, with skipper Schalk Burger leading by example by turning in a blinder which really should have won him the man of the match and not Willem Alberts.
The Sharks rely so much on momentum but they were denied it by the Stormers’ physical defensive system, and with Rynhardt Elstadt again showing what a huge prospect he is as a lock, it was the Cape team that got the better of the all-important early forward exchanges.
The Sharks smashed the Stormers in the scrums last season but the Stormers were mostly steady this time, and at the first scrum it was the Sharks who were penalized. Peter Grant made no mistake with the three pointer, and apart from when Jacques-Louis Potgieter equalized after 10 minutes, the Stormers were ahead for the rest of the game.
It was not the most memorable match, and the Stormers effectiveness in shutting down the Sharks game led to a muted atmosphere on the terraces that were so electrified by the Sharks performance in the Currie Cup final.
But the Stormers always looked the side more likely to create a try, with the Sharks’ try scoring opportunities coming via a couple of break-outs when the Stormers were on attack. It was a night when neither side handled particularly well, and those break-outs came to nothing, once because Charl McLeod chose the wrong option and once because of a knock-on.
The only try of the match was scored by Burger in the 13th minute and it came after the Sharks had kicked poorly onto Bryan Habana from inside their own 22 after Jacques-Louis Potgieter had been caught in possession near his own line. The Springbok wing, in much better and more confident form, ran it back towards the middle, after the recyle Jaque Fourie broke through and Burger was up to go over almost unopposed when Fourie was tackled.
The Stormers applied enormous pressure on the Sharks throughout the match and it was translated into the points that Peter Grant, again in good form, kicked with his boot. Potgieter wasn’t so accurate in response, and neither were the Sharks that accurate in general play. That was mostly because, for once, the Stormers came to Durban and fronted.
Sharks 6 – Penalty: J. Potgieter(2)
Stormers 16 – Try: Schlalk Burger ; Conversion: Peter Grant ;Penalty: P.Grant (3)