Cape Town – The Stormers first stringers responded to the challenge set by the so-called ‘B’ team by romping to a one-sided 87-5 win over the Boland Cavaliers in their Super Rugby warm-up game in Wellington on Friday evening.
As the scoreline suggests, the hosts were completely outclassed in this annual pre-season fixture by opponents who were simply stronger, slicker and more explosive than they were. The Stormers scored 13 tries against the solitary breakaway score that Gavern Skippers scored against the run of play for Boland in the second half.
It was the final preparation game before the competition starts next week for the Stormers against the Bulls in Pretoria but the first outing of the season for most of the Stormers frontline players. The team included nine Springboks, who went out to match the performance put in by the back-up players against the Bulls on Super Hero Sunday. The Stormers won that match 33-28.
The Stormers never gave the impression they felt the need to hit top gear in the sweltering summer conditions, but although there were some early handling errors, they also never looked like being challenged and there was some impressive handling and passing. They scored seven converted tries in the first half for a 49-0 lead, with all the players producing the confident performances they need before they travel to Loftus.
It might be argued that the Stormers frontline haven’t been sufficiently stretched in comparison to the Bulls, who fielded their frontline players in Cape Town last week and will do so again in what should be a tough outing against the Sharks in Ballito on the KZN north coast on Saturday.
However there are many different ways to skin a cat, and what the game did present them with was the perfect opportunity to get the combinations synchronised. In that sense coach Robbie Fleck couldn’t have asked for more. The midfield of Damian de Allende and Ruhan Nel was particularly impressive and on this evidence could be a strong-point of the 2019 Super Rugby challenge.
Centre is an area of depth this year for the Stormers. Dan du Plessis, who came on to play the second half here, has played all the games in the pre-season and looks hungry after a lengthy lay-off. The former SA Schools and age-group star, like most men in the legendary Du Plessis family, boasts plenty of talent. Dan Kriel did well at No 12 last week and again when he came on here, and JJ Engelbrecht, who played on the wing at Boland Stadium, is another potential midfield option, as will be EW Viljoen when he returns from injury.
Sergeal Petersen missed this game with injury but the other expected starter on the wing, SP Marais, showed how adept he was at taking his opportunities by crossing the line twice before being replaced relatively early in the game.
Damian Willemse made use of his opportunity to become acquainted with flyhalf again ahead of a probable start in that position at Loftus.
It is at forward though that the Stormers’ real strength lies and which carries their potential for a strong Super Rugby challenge. There may be a bit of concern that Bok tighthead Frans Malherbe left the field after the first quarter, to be replaced by Neethling Fouche (Wilco Louw was being rested). But otherwise the forward battle went as expected. Cobus Wiese, playing at lock this time as he continues his comeback, carried the ball strongly, as did newly crowned SA Player of the Year Pieter-Steph du Toit, Bok skipper Siya Kolisi, JD Schickerling and Sikhumbuzo Notshe. The last mentioned produced a particularly livewire performance in the first half before being replaced for the second by the equally impressive Juarno Augustus.
Du Toit provided the last pass for Schickerling to score the first try in the left corner after eight minutes, Nel providing the initial impetus by taking the ball up. Notshe scored the second as the Stormers took the direct attack route in the 14th minute, and four minutes later it was the turn of Marais to go over for his first try. His second, in which he ran onto a kick from Willemse, put the Stormers out of sight at 28-0 with just a quarter of the match gone. One of the more spectacular tries was scored by Nel as the Stormers ran the ball back from the Boland restart following a try from Neethling Fouche.
Wing Nico Leonard, who is new to this level, scored shortly after the break before the Stormers started to ring the changes in an attempt to rest the top guns for next week while offering more game time to the fringe players. Leonard was to feature again with a bullocking run that netted another try later on.
Jean-Luc du Plessis made his eagerly awaited return to the playing field just beyond the 50 minute mark. He celebrated his return with the difficult angled conversion of Schickerling’s second try just as the game slipped beyond the hour mark. He kicked three more conversions after that (they didn’t bother with the conversion of the 13th try) as the Stormers piled on the agony, replacement loose-forward Jaco Coetzee capping a strong cameo appearance with two tries.
Tries: JD Schickerling (2), SP Marais (2), Nico Leonard (2), Jaco Coetzee (2), Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Siya Kolisi, Neethling Fouche, Ruhan Nel and Juarno Augustus
Conversions: SP Marais (4), Damian Willemse (3) and Jean-Luc Du Plessis (5)
Try: Gavern Skippers