Brent Russell and skipper Luke Watson scored two tries each as the Vodacom Stormers warmed a chilly Cape evening with a 37-24 win over the Reds in their penultimate Vodacom Super 14 fixture at Newlands on Saturday.
Watson crossed for a brace in the first half and Russell did the same in the second as the Vodacom Stormers finally laid to waste their unwanted reputation for alternating their wins with losses, a sequence which extended back to late February.
In all the Vodacom Stormers scored five tries to two, in so doing securing the bonus point win that could yet see them attaining respectability if they beat the Sharks in their final league match here next weekend. The Vodacom Stormers have now won six matches and lost six, which means that next week is really about whether this season can be remembered as one where they made progress.
But the Vodacom Stormers will be the first to agree that they will have to lift their performance if they hope to match the Sharks next week, for there were too many times in this match where they mixed good with bad.
And while the quality of the Vodacom Stormers passing and off-loading in the tackle was quite outstanding at times, it is also true that the Reds conspired in the home team’s favour by too often presenting them with the sort of gift turn-over possession which is the Vodacom Stormers staple on their good days.
The Sharks, needing to win to secure a home semifinal, will not be nearly as charitable, and will punish the sort of mistakes that the Vodacom Stormers made too many of on Saturday.
That said, the Vodacom Stormers defence has improved hugely this season, and as was the case against the Blues the previous week, the Reds opportunities to score points through tries were a rare occurrence.
Where they did get many chances though was through kickable penalties, and they led 9-6 after an opening quarter that saw no less than nine penalties awarded by New Zealand referee Steve Walsh.
That meant much of the rugby was static, and the breakdowns were frequently a mess. When there were good clean and quick recycles from the breakdowns, however, it was usually the Vodacom Stormers who were responsible, and this featured in several of their tries, not the least of them being Russell’s fine first try, which came from a quick turn-over under the Reds posts, with Joe van Niekerk summing up the situation quickly in transferring the ball to the left, where the Vodacom Stormers had an advantage in numbers.
The try was completed by some wonderful hard running and inter-passing between Russell and De Wet Barry. It was an important score, as it came soon after half-time, just when the Reds looked to be fighting their way back into the game. It was in effect a 14 point swing, for the Reds were pressing hard at the time.
But the Vodacom Stormers were put on the road to victory by their captain’s two tries, both of them coming from inside passes close to the Reds line. The first came after sustained forward pressure, and the second was quite clever as Joe van Niekerk’s inside pass found Watson running down an unmanned No 8 channel after an attacking scrum.
The Reds were at that stage scrumming down with seven men as prop David Te Moana had been yellow carded for a pulling down a maul when the Vodacom Stormers were on the road to their first score.
Watson’s second try saw the Vodacom Stormers go to the break 20-12 up, and although the Reds did threaten briefly when Ben Tune took advantage of a slipped tackle down the touchline to make it 27-19 at one stage, Russell struck back immediately when he charged down an Andy Walker clearance to gather and score his second try.
Van Niekerk, who was back in his best form, scored the fifth and final Vodacom Stormers try when he was on the end of a long pass out on the left flank and he used his strength and pace to muscle his way over in the corner.
Vodacom Stormers – Tries: Luke Watson 2, Brent Russell 2, Joe van Niekerk. Conversions: Peter Grant 3; Penalties:Peter Grant 2.
Reds – Tries: Ben Tune and Sean Hardman. Conversion: Clinton Schifcofske; Penalties: Clinton Schifcofske 4.