The DHL Stormers did what they had to do by getting back on the bike after their first defeat last week by downing the Vodacom Super Rugby champions, the Reds, 23-13 at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Friday.
The positive result puts the Stormers back at the top of the log, although the Chiefs and the Bulls have a chance to overtake them on Saturday.
The Stormers’ first stumble was last week against the Crusaders in Christchurch, and they were desperate to get back to their winning ways in the third tour match. There was seldom any doubt they would achieve their objective, as they controlled the game from the opening minutes and just never allowed the Reds into the contest.
Once again, like the opening tour win against the Highlanders two weeks ago, the Stormers out-muscled their opponents and showed superb control as they blanketed the Reds with their organised and physical defensive system. The Cape team scored two first-half tries and might have thought they were in with a shout at grabbing the four-try bonus point when they led 17-3 at the break.
Their failure to do so in a second half where maybe the Stormers missed their experienced players, who might have pushed for the killer blow, has given the Bulls an opportunity to go top of the South African conference log on Saturday evening if they score a four-try bonus win against the Brumbies at Loftus.
However if they do concede the lead in the conference battle it shouldn’t concern the Stormers too much, as they are on the road and this was their second win of the tour. If they complete their tour with a win in Perth against the Western Force next week, thus ensuring they are within spitting distance of the Bulls, they will be satisfied as the Bulls still have to tour.
It was a good win for the Stormers as they played with a depleted team following the return home of skipper Jean de Villiers and the withdrawal of vice-captain Andries Bekker, with stand-in captain Duane Vermeulen proving his leadership potential by leading from the front with another hugely influential game in the tight loose.
The Stormers started well, Bryan Habana winning the ball at the kick-off and setting in motion a build-up to the right that netted a Peter Grant penalty to make it 3-0 after two minutes. The Stormers then missed the restart, but the Reds sustained a massive blow when flyhalf Sam Lane tore his cruciate ligaments after four minutes.
REFUSED TO PANIC
The Reds had a few further disruptions, but that should not detract from a controlled performance from a team that had an average age of just 23 and which now stretches the franchises overall record in Australia to 11 wins in 26 matches, the best by a South African team.
The Reds did have possession in the early minutes, but it was the ease with which the Stormers, with Siya Kolisi again massive and Eben Etzebeth, Rynhardt Elstadt, Vermeulen and Tiaan Liebenberg equally so, that sounded an ominous warning to the hosts.
In the eighth minute the Stormers forced their way into Reds territory after a big tackle from Juan de Jongh forced yet another turn-over, and Gio Aplon scored the first try of the match as the Stormers built up through an excellent little break from Grant off an attacking lineout. The flyhalf kicked the conversion, and the Stormers were ahead 10-0 after fewer minutes.
You give a good defensive team like the Stormers a lead like that and you are in trouble, and so it proved as the visitors just appeared to keep their opponents at arms-length for the rest of the game. One area that didn’t function for the Stormers on the night, however, was the lineout — perhaps unsurprisingly considering they were without stalwart Bekker, who watched from the stands.
They lost four lineouts against the throw in the first half, and that prevented them from picking up momentum, but after 36 minutes they scored a brilliant length-of-the-field try in which they systematically built up, with Steven Kitshoff putting in a great dart down the touchline before transferring the ball inside, and eventually it was Grant who dotted down near the posts as the Reds just ran out of defenders.
The Reds had to do something quickly if they were going to overturn the 14-point deficit at the halfway mark, and they did come close on a couple of occasions, including one TMO call where lock Rob Simmonds was over the line but failed to control the ball in dotting it down. Later the Reds also chased a ball into the Stormers ingoal area only for the bounce to allude them.
But full marks to the Stormers for the way they refused to panic on defence, and when they did visit the Reds half Grant kicked a penalty to make it 20-3 after 52 minutes. It was 10 minutes later that the Reds finally got a try, which came in the form of a gift as a lineout overthrow fell into Reds captain Rob Horwill’s hands on the Stormers line.
The Stormers did look a bit fatigued in the last minutes, but the Reds never looked like scoring the points necessary to win the game, and after the Reds did draw back to a seven point deficit with four minutes to go through a Mike Harris penalty, the Stormers just responded with one of their own to stretch the lead back to 10 and deny the Reds a much-needed bonus point.
It was the first win by a South African team in Brisbane since the Lions won there in 2009.
Reds – Try: James Horwill. Conversion: Mike Harris. Penalties: Ben Lucas, Harris.
DHL Stormers – Tries: Gio Aplon, Peter Grant. Conversions: Peter Grant (2). Penalties: Grant (3).