Four tries to one at Newlands
The Stormers scored a bonus-point (35-22) win to end the Brumbies' unbeaten Super Rugby run at a cold, breezy Newlands on Saturday.
As was expected the two teams produced a game of brutal intensity and that is exactly what it was.
Four tries to one, a thirteen-point winning margin - it sounds comfortable. But it was not, not at all. If any one man made it uncomfortable it was George Smith with his nous at the tackle.
In fact the whole Brumbies side did so well in the second half that they seemed likely to overtake the Stormers. They went from 22-10 down at half-time to 25-22 with 10 minutes to play. They were able to corrode the Stormers' lead with a series of penalties which were largely a result of pressure. In the first half the momentum had been with the Stormers; in the second it was almost with the Brumbies - almost because that adamantine defence of the Newlands side did not crack.
For the first time this year the Stormers scored a try bonus point but they won above all by doing what they do best - knock opponents down. Massive Fotu Auelua sang alleluia in Durban but apart from damage done to little Gio Aplon he was ineffective against the Stormers.
Oh, the Stormers made errors. Twice Jaco Taute, with no excuse, kicked the ball out on the full and that put the Brumbies in a position to kick two penalties. But, on the other hand, twice the Brumbies made gross handling errors which led to two tries. 14 points are a long way better than six.
The scrums were odd. The Stormers destroyed the first Brumby scrum, won a tighthead and a penalty. But then they were penalised twice at scrums. On one occasion, with a three-point outcome, Steven Kitshoff was penalised though at the end of the scrum he was on his feet while Ben Alexander was flat on the ground. Kitshoff did not pull down and one wonders how you collapse a scrum when you are on your feet at the end of it and the other fellow is prone on the ground.
Sadly there were moments of playground brawling in the game which really were unworthy of such teams and such a competition.
The Brumbies started the livelier of the two sides and it was against the run of play when Joe Pietersen goaled because Sam Carter had strayed ahead of a kick. 3-0 after 9 minutes.
Then came an astonishing try. The referee was playing advantage in the Stormers' favour and they moved the ball around till Elton Jantjies flipped a sweet, little pass inside to Aplon near the Brumbies' 10-metre line. That was all the will-o-the-wisp needed. He accelerated in his mercurial way, ran past three opponents and was faced by full back Robbie Coleman. Aplon beat the fullback who fell the wrong way as Aplon skated untouched round him. It was a wonderful try. 10-0 after 11 minutes.
When Siya Kolisi was penalised at a tackle Christian Lealiifano goaled. 10-3 after 16 minutes.
After a spasm of kicking the Stormers had a line-out from a penalty 10 metres from the Brumbies' line. They mauled on Andries Bekker and then drove at the line. Kolisi was almost over and then the tallest man picked up the ball and dived over for the try, Bekker's first of the match. 15-3 after 22 minutes.
On only one occasion in the match did the Stormers' defensive set-up wabble, and Henry Speight exploited it. He burst between Kitshoff and Juan de Jongh and was too fast for Pietersen's despairing tackle on a 40-metre run for a try close in. 15-10 after 28 minutes, and the Newlands fans - 35 073 of them - felt nervous. Was this the start of the Brumby-ism that had annihilated the Sharks the week before? As it turned out it was the Brumbies' only try of the match.
The Brumbies threw a loose ball along the ground and Jean de Villiers got it at the feet of Auelua. Gerhard van den Heever made ground and the Stormers played quickly till Jantjies held the ball a bit longer than the defence expected and he passed behind their backs to Bekker who had a clear run to the line. 22-10 after 38 minutes.
The Brumbies were a much better side in the second half.
Lealiifano goaled a scrum penalty but Pietersen goaled a tackle penalty against Stephen Moore and then Lealiifano goaled a tackle penalty against De Kock Steenkamp, who otherwise had a great game, and the score was 25-19 with 18 minutes to play. With 10 minutes to play Kolisi was penalised at a tackle and Lealiifano made the score 25-22 and there were raw nerves in the ground. But then Auelua was penalised at a tackle. 28-22 with 8 minutes to play.
The Brumbies wanted to win and played wide, right and left but without advancing against the stern defence. Then lock Peter Kimlin threw a long, clumsy, floated miss pass out to his left, straight to Gerhard van den Heever who ran through 50 empty metres to score. 35-22 with 5 minutes to play. In those five minutes the Brumbies did not come close to scoring.
Man of the Match; Andries Bekker. He bestrode the game like a colossus. He scored two tries, he owned the line-outs and he made many telling tackles.
For the Stormers:
Tries: Aplon, Bekker 2, Van der Heever
Cons: Pietersen 3
Pens: Pietersen 3
For the Brumbies:
Pens: Lealiifano 5
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Gerhard van den Heever, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Don Armand, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Damian de Allende, 22 Jaco Taute.
Brumbies: 15 Robbie Coleman, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Fotu Auelua, 7 George Smith, 6 Ben Mowen, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Peter Kimlin, 3 Dan Palmer, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Scott Fardy, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Nic White, 21 Mark Swanepoel, 22 Clyde Rathbone.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa), Marc van Zyl (South Africa)
TMO: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa)