Full house of points as Stormers break losing streak
They wouldn’t have the opponents they face in a tough December quaking in their boots but the DHL Stormers did break their four-match losing sequence as they scored a hard-earned 31-7 Vodacom United Rugby Championship victory over Zebre in Stellenbosch on Saturday night.
“Hard earned” wasn’t a phrase you’d have used when they buried Zebre by a big score in their first-ever home game against an overseas team here at the Danie Craven Stadium last March, but it did apply on a night where even with their Springboks back, the Stormers still struggled to make any kind of statement against an Italian team that continues to improve.
But they did hit their baseline target, which was the four-try bonus point to go with the win, when Leolin Zas crossed 12 minutes from fulltime to ensure that the Stormers will head to England next week for their opening Investec Champions Cup clash with Leicester Tigers with the confidence that comes from getting a win under the belt.
It might have concerned their coach John Dobson though that until Zas crossed for the bonus-point try, there was no sign that Zebre were going to give up their quest for what would have been a famous win for them and until that moment, although the Stormers always looked the likely winners, you could hardly say the result was beyond doubt.
In the early minutes, with the Stormers breaking tackles and the passes going to hand, it looked like the big win everyone anticipated might come about. However, as has been the case too often this season, the Cape side didn’t show enough respect for their possession and lost too much ball in contact.
Still, their early dominance, with Ruben van Heerden driving impressively and the returning Bok backs Manie Libbok and Damian Willemse adding their attacking touches, along with loose-forward Hacjivah Dayimani, made it feel like the 13 minutes it took the Stormers to get their first try was longer than it really was.
That came about when the Stormers destroyed the Zebre unit from five metres out and Evan Roos dotted down off the powerful drive across the line.
The scrum was one of the standouts of the Stormers performance, and Kwenzo Blose should feel his confidence has been restored after his nightmare first start in Johannesburg at the beginning of the URC season. But the Stormers weren’t able to capitalise in a first half where they were too sloppy and, after the opening 13 minutes, also spent too much time in their own half.
Indeed, Zebre came close to being the next team to score when a cross kick was kicked through and they scored under the posts after 32 minutes, but it was adjudged by the TMO that there was a knock-on rather than the ball dropping onto the Zebre players’ foot.
It seemed to be a wakeup call for the Stormers, who responded by putting Ruhan Nel in at the right corner for the second try just short of halftime, but then came more sloppiness, this time defensively, as the visitors were presented with a penalty opportunity from the last move of the half due to a high tackle.
One of the Stormers’ weaknesses on the night, particularly in the first half, was their first time tackling, again something that has been a trend this season, and sure enough from the attacking lineout Zebre were able to get enough momentum to put scrumhalf Alessandro Fusco over for a try beneath the posts.
It was a big psychological moment in the game and instead of falling away once there was some daylight between the Stormers and them on the scoreboard, suddenly it was down to a five-point game (12-7) at the halftime break.
The Stormers started the second half with some urgency and scored what many would describe as a typical Stormers try to Courtnall Skosan within four minutes of the restart, with Warrick Gelant setting it up after fielding a kick and clicking the switch by searing through almost the entire Zebre team.
That was to be the last time though that the Stormers troubled the scorers until the 69th-minute try from Zas that made it safe, and then Damian Willemse dotted down in the left corner to ensure the Stormers’ score for the night went beyond the 30-point mark.
Zebre will feel they put in a good effort while the Stormers will feel they were in a game, which may be a good thing as they head into a sequence of games that see them play the Tigers, LaRochelle, the Vodacom Bulls and Hollywood Sharks in successive weeks.
No disrespect to an enthusiastic Stellenbosch crowd and an atmospheric venue, they must also be looking forward to getting back to the DHL Stadium, with their new playing surface set to be tested in the Cape Town Sevens next week before the visit of European champions LaRochelle a week later.
DHL Stormers 31 - Tries: Evan Roos, Ruhan Nel, Courtnall Skosan, Leolin Zas and Damian Willemse; Conversions: Manie Libbok 3.
Zebre Parma 7 - Try: Alessandro Fusco; Conversion: Giovanni Montemauri.