Gavin Rich – SuperSport.com
Cape Town – The leadership and coaches of both camps were unanimous that Stormers captain Siya Kolisi made the right decision when he directed Jean-Luc du Plessis to kick the last-gasp penalty that earned his team a draw against Crusaders at Newlands on Saturday.
The Stormers were pressing for the win and had just been denied by millimetres what would have been a match-winning try when the ball bounced awkwardly on the line as Damian Willemse tried to chase down a well directed cross kick from Du Plessis. Referee Nic Berry had been playing advantage and called the players back for a penalty.
With the Crusaders leading 19-16, Kolisi was faced with a tricky dilemma. The penalty was in an easily kickable position and with time effectively up on the stadium clock, a successful kick would guarantee the draw.
But while a draw meant a solitary extra log point to go with the one they already guaranteed by not being more than seven behind, a win would have netted an extra three points.
Kolisi had to weigh up the Stormers’ chances of succeeding where they had failed earlier, and most notably when they were pressing for a win against the Brumbies four weeks ago and messed up the last attacking lineout, against the fact that two log points would still be invaluable in the context of the tight South African conference battle.
For opposing captain Sam Whitelock it was a no-brainer.
“I thought it was a smart move by them to guarantee the two points given where their conference stands at the moment. In terms of the conference, and what they need, it made a lot of sense,” said Whitelock.
According to Kolisi and his coach Robbie Fleck, however, the decision was about more than just the two log points. It was about making sure that the Stormers got something out of a game where for the most part they gave as good as they got.
“It was a bit of an empty feeling in our change room afterwards as we really wanted to win,” said Kolisi.
“When we heard on Tuesday that there had already been 30 000 tickets sold we wanted to give it our best shot. We knew not many people were backing us. But it was important from a morale point of view that we got that last kick over and drew the game. We needed to get something out of it. We need to use this now. We can’t now just not turn up against the Highlanders. We need to take the confidence we gained from this game into the remaining games.”
Understandably Fleck did ruminate a bit on what could have been an even better outcome for the Stormers, but was adamant that the right decision had been taken to kick the three pointer.
“We could have won had Damian been able to dot down the ball when presented with that opportunity near the end but we are happy with the draw,” said Fleck.
“We were playing against the team that has been the best in the competition for some years now so to get something out of the game was a massive positive for us. It would have been a bit deflating had we lost narrowly. So it was a smart move by Siya to go for the draw. Had he opted to go for the corner and we had lost the ball all the effort we put in would have gone to waste. It was a great game and perhaps a rubicon moment in our campaign. If we can play like that against the best team in the world then we can beat most of the teams that come our way.”
Indeed, and Crusaders coach Scott Robertson was in agreement that with the Stormers playing three of their last four games at home, they are in with a great chance of making the playoffs if they can repeat the intensity they displayed against his team.
“It is always a funny feeling when you draw and we did feel we did enough to win the game but they stayed in it and the intensity in their defence was incredible. This game showed how difficult it is to win here,” said Robertson.
“The Stormers have struggled away from home, but they are incredibly tough to beat here and they play most of their remaining games here. So they are in with a very good chance (given how tight the South African conference is) if they can show the same intensity in the remaining games.”
The Stormers remaining matches are against the Highlanders (home), Lions (away), Sunwolves (home) and Sharks (home).
Although they are currently six points behind the conference leading Jaguares and Bulls, they can quickly make that up if they pick up some winning momentum and those teams stumble.
Both the Jaguares and the Bulls scored important away wins in Australasia at the weekend, but the Bulls face three more tour fixtures while the Jaguares have two matches to play in Australia.
The Stormers have set their sights on winning all their remaining games, and the key to their chances could be the mounting injury list.
Fleck said that the injuries that forced Eben Etzebeth and Damian de Allende from the field were not serious, but that Springbok hooker Bongi Mbonambi’s participation in the remaining fixtures might be in doubt as he has strained a quad muscle.
“Bongi is our only big concern after today,” said Fleck.
Wilco Louw, who was forced to withdraw after straining a groin muscle in the gym on Thursday, is expected to be back in training this week.
However, the likes of JD Schickerling, Salmaan Moerat, Ruan Nel, Dan du Plessis, Sergeal Petersen, Chris van Zyl and Juarno Augustus are out for the rest of the Super Rugby season so depth could be severely tested if there are further injuries.
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