The Stormers have one foot in the Super 14 semi-finals after a scintillating display gave them a 42-14 win over the Crusaders.
The Stormers have one foot in the Super 14 semi-finals after a scintillating display gave them a 42-14 win over the Crusaders on Friday.
It was a compelling game of rugby, played at a pace that held itself just under the frantic, just above the norm for a non-international game. It wasn't quite Test level, but wasn't far from it.
The Stormers enjoyed the perfect start, chasing down their kicks and smashing up accurately in defence. It earned them two penalties, both of which Peter Grant landed.
But immediately from the second, Grant undid all his good work, dithering over a clearance and allowing Dan Carter the chance to charge down, collect and score near the posts. Carter converted to give his side the lead.
There was a shift in momentum briefly, with the Crusaders getting the bit between their teeth and taking the ball on with immaculate continuity, but the Stormers' much-vaunted defence held firm.
By contrast, while the Crusaders' defensive lines held, they also infringed. Grant landed his third and a fourth crashed off a post as the home side wrestled control.
There were some frightening hits. Richie McCaw – celebrating his 100th Super Rugby appearance – probably won the bosh of the game award for a cruncher on Gio Aplon which had the capacity crowd howling in empathic pain. Aplon stood up fit and well, but having conceded a penalty. Carter missed and 9-7 it remained.
The Stormers found their intensity again, plugging away at the Crusaders defence and it yielded all sorts of penalties, including one for Grant to boot over for a 12-7 lead and a subsequent team warning from referee Stuart Dickinson.
It wasn't heeded, and five minutes later Kieran Read was dispatched to the bin, much to the fury of McCaw whose reactionary dialogue with Dickinson carried on into the half-time tunnel. Meantime, Grant had time to miss his sixth shot at goal, but his team was good value for the half-time lead.
The game turned for good seven minutes after half-time with a try that will sit right at the top of Jaque Fourie's video scrapbook. He jinked inside on the half-way line and weaved his way through five defenders with barely a hand laid on him for a sensational score. Grant converted to make it 19-7 and leave the visitors with a mountain to climb.
Grant made it 22-7 with his fifth successful kick five later as the visitors gathered beneath the posts for a quick mental regroup. It made little difference. Another kick through – the favoured tactic of the home side – was chased down well and Maitland was caught and feasted upon by the chasers. Grant kicked yet another. 25-7.
There was nearly another try, with a show and go by Grant, a barging run by Sireli Naqelevuki which so nearly took him to the line and a lunge by Duane Vermeulen that took him over the line but also on top of the body of Sam Whitelock.
At the ensuing 5m scrum, the Stormers won a penalty. You can probably guess what Grant did with it.
The Crusaders enjoyed a rare spell of front foot ball for a while, with Maitland nearly over, but just as they looked threatening once again, that Stormers defence struck. Adriaan Fondse took a loose ball, offloaded to Juan de Jongh who grubbered ahead and the pace of Naqelevuki did the rest.
There was time for Colin Slade to take a high cross-kick and score a consolation try, but back came the home side with a belting move down the right, finished off by Fourie once more. 42-14?! That last-day clash between the Stormers and Bulls looks very tasty indeed!
Man of the match: This was an exceptional team performance from the Stormers, but the man who changed the whole complexion of the game with such a special try deserves his reward. Jaque Fourie, take a bow.
For the Stormers:
Tries: Fourie 2, Naqelevuki
Cons: Grant 3
Pens: Grant 7
For the Crusaders:
Tries: Carter, Slade
Cons: Carter 2
Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Sireli Naqelevuki, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Juan De Jongh, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger (c), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 JD Moller.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Eusebio Guinazu, 18 Anton Van Zyl, 19 Pieter Louw, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Willem De Waal, 22 Tim Whitehead.
Crusaders: 15 Colin Slade, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 George Whitelock, 5 Chris Jack, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ti'i Paulo, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Thomas Waldrom, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Dan Bowden, 22 Jared Payne.
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)