The Stormers settled for a draw, rather than go for a win, in their Round 14 encounter with the Crusaders at Newlands on Saturday.
A draw. Like all draws it was an unsatisfying result, filled with lots of what-ifs. What if they had kicked out and gone for a try? What if the pass to Reece had not been ruled forward? What if Willemse had scored with a minute to go? Those are just the what-ifs as the match rushed to an end with the mighty Crusaders leading just 19-16.
What-iffing is a waste of time as reality is never going to change. And part of that reality was the massive efforts both sides made. The credit must go especially to the Stormers who have been so bashed about by criticism. They had more to gain, more to prove than the log-leading Crusaders. And they proved, from beginning to end, that they were a team of great worth.
There was a crowd of 27 653 in the historic ground, many of them supporting the Crusaders who have for many years enjoyed great support in Cape Town. The noisy support made for a great atmosphere, though the noise when the home side was kicking at goal was way offside.
Wilco Louw was a late withdrawal from the Stormers side, his place taken at tighthead by big Frans Malherbe with Neethling Fouché promoted to the bench. During the match the Stormers did not seem to suffer at the scrums, for the Crusaders were penalised three times for scrum infringements to none by the Stormers.
The Stormers started off like a house on fire. They were energetic and direct and had the better of the first 25 minutes of the match. Their tackling and contesting at the breakdown were aggressive.
A penalty for a scrum infringement, gave the Stormers their first lineout, about 25 metres from the Crusaders’ line. Bongi Mbonambi threw in and Pieter Steph du Toit rose high to catch the ball which he dropped from on high into the hands of Herschel Jantjies. The scrumhalf gave to Josh Stander who passed to flank Siya Kolisi who was in the line. Kolisi sped past David Havili, also up in the line, and raced down the midfield, swerving past Richie Mo’unga, who as doing fullback duty, and scored at the posts. Stander converted and the Stormers led 7-0 after just over five minutes.
Back came the Stormers. They eschewed a penalty kick at goal in favour of a five-metre lineout. They battered at obstinate Crusader defence till the visitors won a turnover and cleared. But when Jordan Taufua was offside, Stander kicked the penalty goal, the Stormers led 10-0 after 16 minutes.
Both sides were fast in defence, but gradually the tide started to turn as the Crusaders got more ball and were clever when they got it.
When Jaco Coetzee was penalised for being offside, the Crusaders kicked out for a five-metre lineout which they used unconventionally and profitably. They threw to number two, spun a maul around the front, and Matt Todd scored in the left corner. 10-5 after 28 minutes.
They were creative again when they exchanged a penalty for a five-metre lineout on the right. They threw to Scott Barrett who dropped the ball onto a maul group. The referee was about to penalise the Stormers for collapsing the maul when Mo’unga kicked to his left. It was a scruffy bit of a kick which turned to gold when it landed in Havili’s hands and the fullback had an easy run-in for a try. The conversion gave the Crusaders a 12-10 lead when the half-time whistle went five minutes later.
Ryan Crotty did not appear at the start of the second half, his place taken by the young rising star, Braydon Ennor.
The Crusaders were going left where hooker Codie Taylor broke and gave to Ennor who raced down the left touchline for a try. 19-10 after 45 minutes, at which stage Ennor went back to the bench as Crotty reappeared.
Crusaders had now scored three tries. They did not get another score in the next 35 minutes.
The Stormers got close when Seabelo Senatla and Jantjies set up an attack, and they drove a quick maul from a lineout to win a penalty in front of the posts when Jack Goodhue was offside Stander goaled, and it was 19-13 with 27 minutes to play.
The Stormers attacked again, the Crusaders were penalised at a scrum, and Jean-Luc du Plessis, on for Stander, goaled. 19-16 with 18 minutes to play.
There were two huge what-ifs in these 18 minutes.
First, the Crusaders attacked on the right. Sevu Reece took a pass and raced down the right touchline. He kicked ahead. JJ Engelbrecht of the Stormers was leading the chase for the ball but then that oval joker broke sharply to the right where Reece got it and scored. He and thousands of other people thought he had scored but the TMO claimed that the pass to Reece had been forward. Controversially, the try was disallowed.
The Stormers were mauling in the Crusaders’ 22 when the maul fell down. The referee allowed advantage, and Du Plessis kicked for the left corner where Willemse dived on the ball in in-goal but failed to ground it. Back they went to the penalty and, with time running into no-side, Du Plessis kicked the penalty goal that drew the match, and left us with what-ifs, but admiration for both sides.
Man of the Match: He won lineouts, he tackled more than anybody else, he carried and charged more than anybody else, he contested breakdowns and he shoved in scrums. Pieter-Steph du Toit is our Man of the Match.
It is the Crusaders’ third draw of the season – their second against a South African side. The Sharks also held them to a draw earlier in the season.
For the Stormers:
Pens: Stander 2, Du Plessis 2
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Todd, Havili, Ennor, Reece
Cons: Mo’unga 2