The Vodacom Stormers on Friday evening kept their Vodacom Super 14 semifinals hopes alive with a convincing 42-14 trashing of the Crusaders at a jam-packed Newlands.
The home side led 12-7 at halftime. The Stormers were full value for their win, putting in a polished performance. They had the upper hand in all facets of the game and showed why they should be regarded as serious title contenders. The only blemish on the performance was the poor tactical kicking. They kicked the ball too often in the hands of the defenders.
That, however, should not detract from a memorable victory over a side that also harbours title hopes. The Stormers were excellent on the attack and created a lot of opportunities with ball in hand against the side who boasts the second best defensive record in the competition.
The home side couldn’t hope for a better start, because from the kick-off the Crusaders were penalised for obstruction and flyhalf Peter Grant succeeded with the penalty attempt (3-0). In the 5th min. Crusaders captain Richie McCaw, in his 100th Super rugby match, was penalised for not letting go of the tackler on the ground. Grant, much to the delight of the partisan home crowd, made no mistake with the kick for poles (6-0).
The Crusaders then almost immediately hit back when a Grant clearance kick was charged down by his opposite number Dan Carter. The All Black pivot had enough time to collect the ball and dot down with not a defender in sight. Carter converted to hand his side the lead.
The Stormers had to weather another storm in the 12th minute when Gio Aplon was tackled and the ball was dislodged. The Saders countered but wing Zac Guildford couldn’t control the ball and was forced to kick ahead. Grant was there to dot down though.
The Crusaders then applied massive pressure, but No 8 Duane Vermeulen stopped two defenders to prevent what looked like a certain try. The Stormers then put in a good phase of play, recycling the ball 14 times and stretching the defence before Aplon was penalised for not releasing the ball when he was tackled.
Grant slotted a monster penalty in the 21st min. to atone for his earlier mishap to put his team back in the pound seats. Carter missed with a penalty just a minute later and Grant hit the pole with his attempt a minute later. The Stormers then showed real attacking venom, but spurned a gilt-edged chance in the 30th min. when they were penalised for obstruction within striking distance.
The Crusaders were penalised for a high tackle on scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage and Grant made no mistake with the penalty attempt to stretch the lead to 12-7. The Crusaders, who were on a warning for repeated offending in the rucks, suffered a setback when No 8 Kierand Read received a yellow card in the 39th min.
The Stormers kicked, won the lineout and produced the first rolling maul of the match. The Saders went down, but Grant failed with an attempt at goal. The stadium erupted in the 46th minute after a moment of brilliance by Jaque Fourie produced a try that will be remembered forever by everybody who was privileged to witness it. The lanky outside centre was put into space and then swerved, stepped and powered his way through the defence, leaving a trial of destruction in his wake to cross close to the posts. Grant converted to make the score 19-7.
The Cape franchise suffered a setback when Springbok wing Bryan Habana was forced off by an injury. Tim Whitehead replaced him. The Stormers then had the defence at sixes and sevens after a scintillating run from flank Francois Louw. The Saders again went offside and Grant took the easy points on offer (22-7).
Immense pressure after a Duvenage box kick led to another penalty for the Stormers, as the Saders were penalised for not releasing the ball. Grant was on song from close to the touchline and added another a few minutes later to make the score 28-7.
The Stormers were not finished though. Naqalevuki rounded off in the 72nd min. after Adriaan Fondse broke away and Juan de Jongh took the movement further. He kicked ahead and the ball stood up perfectly for the big Fijian, who cruised over for Grant to add the conversion.
The Saders finally managed to crack the staunch Stormers defence again in the 74th min. when fullback Colin Slade crossed in the corner. Carter converted (35-14). The Stormers had the last say though. Gio Aplon ripped open the defence from a scrum before unleashing a flying Fourie on his inside. There was no stopping the big midfielder, who scored under the posts for Grant to add two more just before the final whistle sounded.
Vodacom Stormers – Tries: Jaque Fourie (2), Sireli Naqalevuki; Conversions: Peter Grant (3); Penalties: Peter Grant (7).
Crusaders – Tries: Dan Carter, Colin Slade; Conversions: Dan Carter (2) .