The DHL Stormers converted what was already a good Vodacom Super Rugby overseas tour into a great one when they outplayed the Western Force 17-3 in a wet-weather match in Perth on Saturday.
The pools of water on the field and the steady rain in the early stages confirmed that this was never going to be an attractive game to watch and the chances of either team picking up a four-try bonus point were virtually nil.
However the Stormers, as they have done all tour, blanketed their opponents with their physical defence and never looked like losing once Bryan Habana had grabbed an intercept try in the 20th minute that put his team ahead.
In the end the Stormers scored two tries to nil and that just about summed up their superiority as they completed their third win of a four-match tour and now arrive home with the comfort of knowing that they will go into their bye week on top of the South African conference and still in touch with overall log leaders, the Chiefs.
What made the win particularly significant for the Stormers was the fact that for the second week in a row it was pulled off with a severely depleted team.
Coach Allister Coetzee should be even more content with the progress made by the fringe players, and the forward steps taken in growing the Stormers’ depth, than he will be with their position at the top of the conference log table.
This week it was the turn of Nizaam Carr, the young No 8, to step into the breach following the loss to injury of big Duane Vermeulen, and the former Bishops schoolboy celebrated his first start in a Stormers jersey in fine style.
In addition to the mountain of work he got through with his tackling and in pressurising the Force halfbacks, Carr also featured in the rare attacking plays of an error-ridden game.
Carr dovetailed superbly with another impressive Stormers youngster, Siya Kolisi, in the counter-attack from a turnover 75 metres from the Western Force line that effectively sealed the match for the Stormers early in the second half.
The Stormers were ahead 10-3 when Kolisi broke upfield with Carr in support, and together the loose-forwards took the Stormers into the Force red zone.
With everyone playing their part and handling the slippery ball impressively, the Stormers sustained the pressure as they bashed their way through a couple of recycles before eventually it was flyhalf Peter Grant who slid over in the left-hand corner.
Grant’s conversion made it a 14-point lead, which was always going to be too much for the Force to make up in a wet-weather game against the Stormers’ defensive system.
That said, the Force did try their hearts out as they desperately sought the result that would extricate them from the morass they found themselves in over the past fortnight with the departure of their coach, and no-one was better in that regard than skipper David Pocock.
The opensider was instrumental in forcing some crucial turnovers, as was Richard Brown when he came on, but the Stormers were always able to regroup every time possession was turned over.
The Stormers dominated the early territorial battle and their winning the kicking game played a big role in their win on a night where it was always going to be important. The Stormers made gains from most of their field kicks, whereas some of the Force kicking was poor.
The Stormers’ first statement in the game came through an awesome driving maul that ate up several metres, but they were turned over at the breakdown twice in quick succession and the Force were able to get points through a 15th-minute David Hardy penalty off their first proper visit into the Stormers’ half.
But while Capetonians watching the game back home might have been uncomfortable that their team was failing to convert pressure into points and that the Force were coming back into it, the Habana intercept breakaway would have calmed those nerves.
The replay showed that he dived too soon and the ball was not under control when he crossed the line, but referee Jaco Peyper can’t be blamed for thinking he scored it. He had no-one near him at the time.
It remained 7-3 for the rest of the half, and the Force were confident at halftime that they could win if they just started to make better use of their opportunities.
The reality though was that, like most opposing teams, they just weren’t making any impression on the Stormers’ defence, and when a few poor clearances at the start of the second half eventually resulted in Grant being able to kick a penalty that stretched the lead to seven points after 45 minutes, the Force were faced with an uphill struggle.
One area where the Stormers did struggle at times, particularly in the first half, was in holding on to their lineout ball, and this phase prevented them from sustaining pressure.
But none of the mistakes the Stormers made were costly and when the Force were presented with an attacking lineout on the Stormers’ line later in the first half, the Stormers poached it and won a penalty.
So the Stormers come home with eight wins from their first nine matches of the season and in the knowledge that the last two games of the tour have underlined just how much depth there is in the squad.
It will mean Coetzee doesn’t have to sweat too much as he prepares for the injury assessments on key players, including the three captains who watched this game on television.
Western Force – Penalty: David Harvey.
DHL Stormers – Tries: Bryan Habana, Peter Grant. Conversions: Peter Grant (2). Penalty: Peter Grant.