The Stormers completed their preparation for the upcoming Rainbow Cup with a 44-12 victory over the Lions in Cape Town on Saturday.
Although the results of these games don’t really matter, the fact that the Stormers were such comfortable winners after being narrow losers in their previous two games against big teams will be a timely confidence booster ahead of the Rainbow Cup that we now know will start with a derby clash against the Cell C Sharks on 24 April.
More important for coach on the day Dawie Snyman and regular head coach John Dobson though, will be the way the performance followed the trend of the earlier games by providing a stage for more newcomers to add to the Cape franchise’s player depth.
Kade Wolhuter, Marcel Theunissen and a clutch of other new players had already laid down a marker in earlier games and this was another day where newcomers came to the fore as the Stormers recorded their first official win at their new headquarters.
VAN REENEN MAKES STRONG STATEMENT
Both Wolhuter, as a replacement, and Theunissen as an unexpected starter at blindside flank after the late withdrawal from the team of Ernst van Rhyn, played a part in this game. However, in this final dress rehearsal before the Rainbow Cup, it was another flyhalf, Abner van Reenen, who made a statement.
And what a statement he made, both with his kicking – out of hand and at posts – and the role he played in the Stormers’ ball in hand game and in setting up tries with attacking kicks. Van Reenen accumulated 19 points in his debut, even adding an audacious second-half drop-goal to the list of ways that he scored in a game where he hardly put a foot wrong.
It started for him with an excellent contestable kick-off which was well gathered by another new player, openside flank Nama Xaba. The Stormers scored a try from there, with Van Reenen featuring again as he put through the grubber kick that was gathered by Seabelo Senatla before scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies was put over for the score with an inside pass.
If there was a concern for the Stormers it was that they got heavily penalised in the early stages of the first half, which led to the Lions dominating the first parts of the territory battle, but an incisive break from Ruhan Nel in the 14th minute after a double turnover led to a try scored by Senatla on his favourite Blitzbok stomping ground.
Senatla then danced his way through the Lions defence from far out off another turn-over ball a few minutes later and Jantjies was on hand to take the final pass for his second try and a 21-0 Stormers lead after 19 minutes. The Stormers surprised with their decision to kick for posts when they were awarded a penalty in the 25th minute, but the 24-0 lead was a commanding one even though the Lions are a team renowned for their ability to fight back.
ROOS WAS GOOD TOO
Joining Van Reenen in impressing the coaches was another debutant, No 8 Evan Roos, who capitalised on the rest given to Juarno Augustus by sending out a notice that he can certainly do the job of playing that position in the bigger games if required. He is a strongly-built player with all the attributes required of a good No 8.
Other players that have been around a while but who impressed for the Stormers included Dan du Plessis, who revelled in being in his preferred position of inside centre, and of course Jantjies, who nearly completed a hat-trick of tries in the final minutes but was denied when it was adjudged by the TMO that he had just nicked the touchline before going over for the score.
Just prior to that, Van Reenen had his great performance ever so slightly blotted by being yellow carded after tapping the ball back over the touch in goal in going back to contest a Lions kick ahead in the right-hand corner. But it was an odd decision that referee AJ Jacobs and the TMO came to in awarding a penalty try in addition to showing the Stormers flyhalf a yellow card.
STRONG DEFENSIVE EFFORT
Further boxes that the Stormers ticked on the night were the defensive effort, which would have pleased Norman Laker as for much of the game, the Lions were just unable to make any headway against the well organised Stormers system, and the successful return to play of the all Springbok first-choice front row in the second half.
Former Lions lock Marvin Orie got onto the field in the second half for his first appearance for the new team and joined JD Schickerling, who spent some time on the flank, and David Meihuizen and captain Salmaan Moerat in sending out the message that as well as having great depth at front-row forward, the Cape side also has an abundance of locks.
As the scoreline suggests, the Lions didn’t have much going for them on the night and they struggled to synchronise their different team units into a coherent attacking game. It should be noted though that like the Bulls, who lost heavily to the Sharks the previous night, the Lions were a long way from their full-strength team. That should temper any inclination towards euphoria in the Stormers camp, but the Cape players should still be satisfied with their day out.
DHL Stormers 44 – Tries:Seabelo Senatla, Herschel Jantjies 2, Bongi Mbonambi and Ruhan Nel; Conversions:Abner van Reenen 5; Penalties:Abner van Reenen 2; Drop-goal:Abner van Reenen.
Emirates Lions 12 – Try:MJ Pelser; Penalty try.