The Vodacom Stormers gave the more than 25 000 spectators who flocked to Newlands on Sunday the perfect start to the season by beating English Premiership side Saracens 43-33 in a warm-up match.
The halftime was 24-16 in favour of the Stormers, who in the first half looked like the team with the more ammunition and deserved to be ahead. That Newlands can prepare itself for a bumper Super 14 season was evident with such a big crowd rocking up to see their heroes in action.
The Stormers will be happy with the performance, although they know that they would have to up the intensity levels considerably in the competition proper. They showed good skills on the attack and although there were a few defensive lapses the tackling was generally good.
They held their own in the scrums – except maybe for the last 15 minutes or so after a few changes were made to the pack – and lineouts and their loose play was good.
It was not the ideal start to the match for the Stormers, as Saracens right wing Kameli Ratuvou was the beneficiary of a pretty fortunate bounce – and for Stormers wing Tonderai Chavhanga a very cruel one as he completely missed the ball – after a kick ahead from scrumhalf Justin Marhsall.
Flyhalf Glen Jackson converted. With barely 3 minutes gone on the clock the home side was behind 7-3.
The Stormers, however, made their intentions clear with an intense onslaught on the visitors’ try-line which resulted in a penalty close to the Sarries try-line. Flyhalf Peter Grant made it 7-3.
In the 12th minute the Stormers attacked strongly again and scrumhalf Ricky Januarie was stopped short of the line but had enough presence of mind to hand the ball to wing Sereli Naqelevuki, who stretched and scored the first Stormers try of 2009. Grant converted to put his side in the lead (10-7).
Jackson, however, drew the scores level with a penalty in the 16th minute. A minute later former Natal Sharks centre Brad Barritt left the field in a shaken state after an illegal tackle on Grant.
Centre Gcobani Bobo, who showed impressive early-season form, darted through the defence from close range in the 19th minute after a good build-up from his mates. Grant converted to make the score 17-10 just before the first water break.
Jackson slotted penalties in the 23rd and 31st minutes to bring his side back into contention at 17-16.
A scintillating movement, in which No 8 Luke Watson, fullback Percy Montgomery and a few other Stormers featured prominently led to a great try by hooker Schalk Brits in the 38th minute. Grant again converted to make the halftime score 24-16.
A poor kick from Montgomery gave wing Richard Haughton a bit of space and he ripped the Stormers defence apart to score under the posts. Jackson converted to ensure the match was not over as a contest for a long while (24-23).
The Stormers had ideas of their own though as Ricky Januarie bamboozled the defence and passed to Luke Watson who scored under the poles for Grant to convert. The Stormers led 31-23.
Brits, who put in some big tackles in the first half, received the biggest cheer of the day when he nailed Haughton in the 46th minute in a monster tackle. Haughton stayed down but received an ovation when he got up after some medical treatment.
Montgomery left the field in the 60th minute and Joe Petersen took over at fullback.
Two minutes later the crowd went wild as the Stormers exhibited the full range of their attacking skills, starting off with Januarie collecting his own kick ahead, Jean de Villiers brilliantly picking up the rolling ball and beating a defender who ankle-tapped him.
Francois Louw took the ball closer to the Saracens try-line before being hauled in by the defenders. He found another pair of hands in Naqelevuki who dived over in the left-hand corner. Grant failed for the first time but at that stage the game looked safe at 36-23.
Pietersen confirmed this when scoring in the 56th minute after some slick passing by the inside backs, notably Bobo.
With 20 minutes left coach Rassie Erasmus sent on replacements Deon Fourie, Tongan wing Alipate Fatafehi, Nick Koster, Bolla Conradie, Pieter Louw.
Saracens used the opportunity to drive flank Wikus van Heerden over the try-line in the 61st minute. Jackson converted and added a penalty in the 66th to reduce the deficit to 10 points.
Former Bulls star Hilton Lobberts and centre Dylan des Fountain also got a run later on.
The Stormers take on Boland at Wellington on Saturday in their final warm-up match.
Vodacom Stormers – Tries: Sereli Naqelevuki (2), Gcobani Bobo, Schalk Brits, Luke Watson, Joe Pietersen;Conversions: Peter Grant (5), Penalties: Peter Grant (1).
Saracens – Tries: Kameli Ratuvou, Richard Haughton, Wikus van Heerden; Conversions: Glen Jackson (3); Penalties:Glen Jackson (4).