The DHL Stormers had their new young forwards to thank for spearheading their drive to a 39-26 win over the Hurricanes in their opening Vodacom Super Rugby clash at DHL Newlands on Saturday.
Both lock Eben Etzebeth and prop Steven Kitshoff, who has been around for a while but is still only 20 years of age, were stand-outs in a tight five that drove the Hurricanes into submission, and in so doing set up the penalties that Joe Pietersen kicked to clinch the four log points.
Flanker Siya Kolisi, who came on for the injured Schalk Burger, was also outstanding.
Over the past two seasons the driving maul has been to the Stormers what the potato is to the diet of natives of Ireland, and it was their staple again in their start to 2012.
Doubts about the Stormers’ scrumming have been a perennial talking point during the pre-season for most of the past decade, but this year it might have been allowed to obscure something that is indisputable – in most other areas of forward play the Stormers have muscled-up considerably over the last 24 months.
And Stormers fans should be saying thank goodness for that. The driving of the forwards and the metronomic goalkicking of Pietersen, coupled with the whistle of Marius Jonker, were ultimately what won this game against a Hurricanes team that started out looking like the no-name brand they were touted to be beforehand but who came into their own later on.
Indeed, had a marginal call from TMO Shaun Veldsman not gone the Stormers’ way after the Hurricanes’ replacement forward Motu Matu’u had gone over the line halfway through the second half, the Stormers might have made a disastrous start to their campaign.
They were leading by six points at the time and had the Stormers fallen behind then, it might have been a long way back against their fired-up opponents.
The Stormers were also denied a try through a TMO call when Joe Pietersen wriggled over at the end but that was when the Hurricanes were committed to a policy of all-out attack in their quest for a bonus point.
The opportunity would probably not have presented itself had the game situation been different.
It was a bizarre game in the way the Hurricanes were penalised with seeming impunity by Jonker. It may be that the Hurricanes were one of the worst disciplined sides to come to Cape Town, and if that was the case then more kudos for the way the abrasive Stormers exerted pressure.
But it is highly likely Hurricanes fans would have been watching it all from over the ocean with raised eyebrows and not just a little frustration.
The Stormers looked like they were winning the game easily once their driving maul got going in the first half.
The Stormers had opened the scoring with a Gio Aplon try in the fifth minute, with the wing seizing on a misdirected grubber from Hurricanes captain Conard Smith and running a third of the length of the field to score.
The departure of Burger on the buggy not long after that was a low point for the Stormers, and coach Allister Coetzee will be anxiously waiting for the results of a scan on his left knee. It looked like injured ligaments which could mean a lengthy period on the sidelines.
With the forwards ascendant, the Stormers spent most of the first half strangling the Hurricanes, and a boiling point was reached in the last 10 minutes of the half when both Hurricanes props, Tristan Moran and Ben May, were carded in separate incidents.
So it does need to be noted that when the driving maul netted the second Stormers try, the Hurricanes were down to 14 men.
That said, the Hurricanes were also down to 14 men when centre Tim Bateman burst through the Stormers defence from a short pass out of the tackle from the flyhalf to bring the visitors back into range at the break.
So after being 23-9 up a minute from halftime the Stormers suddenly found themselves level at 23-all when the Hurricanes pivot scored an intercept try early in the second half.
It was the goalkicking of Pietersen after that which regained the lead for the Stormers, and they put the game beyond doubt when Jonker awarded the penalty try against the Hurricanes for collapsing another of those lethal driving mauls.
On balance the Stormers deserved their win but they have a lot of improving to do before they host the Sharks in a coastal derby in Cape Town next Saturday.
DHL Stormers – Tries: Gio Aplon, Siyamthanda Kolisi, penalty try. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (3). Penalties: Pietersen (5). Drop goal: Gary van Aswegen.
Hurricanes – Tries: Tim Bateman, Beauden Barrett. Conversions: Barrett (2). Penalties: Barrett (4).