Time could show what became an unplanned opportunity to showcase depth could prove an even bigger boost from the 33-0 win over the Highlanders than the five Vodacom Super 14 log points that the Stormers harvested.
Tiaan Liebenberg was struck down on the day of the game with flu, so in stepped Deon Fourie to replace him. Wing Gio Aplon was also battling with flu, so he dropped to the bench, and Sireli Naqelevuki replaced him in the starting team.
That starting team had also seen some additional changes forced by selection considerations during the week — Anton van Zyl was chosen as the front lock, Dewaldt Duvenage came in at scrumhalf for Ricky Januarie. And of course Schalk Burger returned to lead the side after recovering from injury.
In every instance the player who made it onto the field in the starting team excelled. Van Zyl strengthened the Stormers’ contesting policy at the lineouts, and the upshot was that this was an area where the hosts turned the screws on their opponents as the first step to a convincing victory.
Duvenage had not been poor in his previous start against the Lions, but he was even better in this game, adding incisiveness and sharpness to his distribution and general play around the fringes. It was his better tactical kicking though that earned him a recall ahead of Januarie.
Naqelevuki is often maligned in the Cape for appearing a bit lethargic and lazy on the field, perhaps because his running style is deceptive, but against the Highlanders his physique was used to great effect by the Stormers in getting them across the advantage line.
Best of all though was Fourie, a real livewire player who appeared to be everywhere all at once and on one occasion even pitched up to go through a gap only a matter of a couple of passes after he had been involved in a set-scrum. He also scored a try for good measure.
When Liebenberg returns to full health he has to return to the team for he is probably the form hooker in the country at the moment, but Fourie certainly showed the Stormers coaches that he is deserving of consideration. And so were the other players mentioned, as well as Pieter Louw, who came on for Burger late in the game and again impressed.
For coach Allister Coetzee, it was the perfect response to the disappointing narrow defeat to the Brumbies the week before. And by grabbing the bonus point for scoring four tries, they made up for the point they lost by not holding onto the draw against the Brumbies.
“Hopefully we have got the monkey off our backs now with this bonus point thing, which is a bonus,” said Coetzee.
“Now we just have to keep winning and keep the momentum going. I won’t change much. The guys are comfortable with doing what they do best, which is playing in the right side of the field, defending well and creating opportunities.”
Apart from the defence, which has now leaked just two tries in four games, perhaps the most impressive feature of the Stormers win was their driving maul, which was responsible for two of the tries. One of those was a stupendous effort from a lineout that took place all of 25 metres from the tryline.
“I think if we put away a team by 33-0, then I sleep well. Attack is a fluid thing, and we are trying to get the balance right. Due to our defence, we are allowed to make a couple of mistakes on attack. We took the ball through several phases in this game, unlike last week, where we lost the ball in second phase.
“We had the Highlanders on the rack a few times only for them to turn the ball over at crucial moments, so that is something we need to look at. But the patience was there in this game, certainly after half time. The guys understand that our defence is a safety net for us, and with that mindset, we will be able to work on our attack.”
The Hurricanes will come to Newlands on Saturday smarting from the unexpected defeat by the Cheetahs but boosted by the return from injury of All Black centre Conrad Smith and utility back Tamati Ellison.