The Vodacom Stormers have gone into the season with high expectations and if you had stopped watching at half-time, you would have left Coca Cola Park feeling the hype was justified.
However the Stormers did not add to the 26 points they scored in the first 40 minutes, eventually beating the Lions 26-13 in a game that completely justified that old stating the obvious cliché of it being “a match of two halves”.
In the first period it was all the Stormers, and they played highly efficient, controlled rugby to open up a 20 point advantage at the break. With both their tries coming in the five minutes before the half-time hooter, it seemed Schalk Burger’s team were going to systematically destroy the Lions in the second.
But Lions coach Dick Muir rang the changes during the interval, and no doubt he also read the riot act to his players. Whatever the reason for the transformation, there was one, and suddenly it was the Lions who were piling on the pressure.
Indeed, such was the dominance of the Lions in the third quarter that the Stormers could feel justified if they felt they did well to keep the home team out in that period. When the Lions did eventually score through a Michael Killian burst through the middle, it was the 63rd minute and the score had really come too late to make a difference to the result.
It was as if the Lions just threw caution to the wind in the second half, with their attempts to attack from all over the place being very much a trade-mark of their new coach. They came mighty close on a couple of occasions too, being help up twice when over the line, with the TMO being called in on one occasion to adjudicate.
The Killian try was though the only score from either side in the second half, and the last 40 minutes produced such a poor quality rugby that this match might well rank as the worst yet of this year’s Super 14, which as I write is six matches old.
The Lions abandoned structure in the second half and the Stormers lost their composure. Too many wild passes were flung out from either side, too many basic handling errors were made. It was sloppy stuff, and it is fortunate that it was the first match of the season, for maybe that can be used as an excuse.
The Stormers deserved to win simply because what good rugby was played in the match came from them. The first half was impressive and they seemed well on their way to squeezing the Lions out of the game through strangulation.
The Lions hardly ventured out of their own half before halftime, and the pressure applied by the Stormers was translated into penalties. Joe Pietersen has grown as a player in the past 12 months and now he has a new string to his bow as a goalkicker. He scored one of the two tries, so his contribution to the match was 21 points.
He lost it late in the game, but initially he was cool, calm and collected as he kicked four penalties, one from an acute angle out on the right, to build a 12-3 lead for the Stormers by the 25th minute.
The Lions did draw a penalty back through Earl Rose to make it 12-6, but the buffer they had on the scoreboard seemed to encourage the Stormers to attack more – and that they did with devastating effect in the last five minutes of the first half.
Both of the Stormers’ star new signings from up country figured in the tries. In the first it was Bryan Habana who straightened through a gap off a skip pass from an attacking scrum to put fullback Pietersen away for the first Stormers try of the 2010 Super 14 season.
The second try was the product of an excellent, patient build-up and was rounded off by Jaque Fourie going over untouched after Andries Bekker had done good work down the left touchline before setting up a loose-scrum. Fourie, who moved to the Cape from the Lions at the end of last season, was the target of some chiding from Lions fans and was the subject of at least one banner, but he had the last laugh.
The Springbok had an excellent allround game, and combined well with the youthful Juan de Jongh in a backline that packs a lot of attacking potential, even if it wasn’t always to the fore in this game.
The Lions played exciting rugby at times but they weren’t as organised as the Stormers and simply had too much ground to make up after an abysmal opening half where they were comprehensively outplayed.
Vodacom Stormers: Tries – Joe Pietersen, Jaque Fourie. Conversions – Joe Pietersen (2). Penalties – Joe Pietersen (4).
Auto & General Lions: Try – Michael Killian. Coversion – Earl Rose. Penalties – Rose (2).