• Stormers & Sharks savour the sweet taste of winning ugly

    Stormers & Sharks savour the sweet taste of winning ugly

    The Stormers and Sharks both won ugly in the United Rugby Championship but it did not make their wins any less sweet, writes Mark Keohane.

    First to the Sharks: Any win in this troubled season is a good one, and they are now two from two at home since their World Cup Springboks have returned. Don’t mock the two from two because they were one from eleven before the likes of Bongi Mbonambi, Ox Nche and Eben Etzebeth could combine their qualities in a Sharks jersey in this season’s URC campaign.

    The Sharks beat Edinburgh 23-13 and the Stormers beat Ulster 13-7. The hosts, in both matches, finished stronger and both played the clutch minutes as winners.

    To supporters of both teams, celebrate the win and, especially for the Stormers fans, reflect on four invaluable league points in a congested top eight table. The Sharks, with each win, will build confidence and momentum that can be transferred to the Challenge Cup.

    The Sharks are unlikely to make a top eight in the URC but they can still qualify for next season’s Champions Cup if they win the Challenge Cup, which resumes next weekend with the start of the play-offs and the last round of 16.

    The Sharks, from Saturday to Saturday, have beaten Ulster and Edinburgh. They did it tough but they did it, and for now that is all that matters.

    The Stormers were rampant in scoring seven tries against Edinburgh in a 43-21 win but dogged in repelling the onslaught of Ulster in a 13-7 win that was only confirmed on 80 minutes when Manie Libbok kicked a second penalty.

    Ulster were brutal in their opening half effort. They led 7-0 and on another night may have lead by three times as much. The Stormers, second in the collisions, second in every contact situation and second in getting the ball, somehow managed to restrict the deficit to a converted try after 40 minutes.

    Stormers coach John Dobson, in a brief post match interview, said he and his fellow coaches were as stumped as the players with the quality of the Ulster first half. The key message at half time was to try and win some ball and put the tackle pressure on the visitors. In the first half the Stormers were tackling for 70 percent of the time the ball was in play.

    The script turned in the second half and Ulster were the ones doing the tackling. The criticism of the Stormers will be their lack of accuracy in finishing several 22 metre entries and also a lack of patience on the ball. The critique is merited, but so much of the Stormers indecision, rushed decision-making and frantic attack was influenced by the aggressive and unrelenting Ulster defence.

    The visitors, individually and collectively, scrapped and they fought for every ball on the ground and in the air. They chased and they scrambled. Give them their due.

    Equally, give the Stormers credit for fashioning a second half comeback in which they scored 13 points and conceded none. They also finished the match on Ulster’s try line and turned down several second half penalty kicks to ensure field position pressure and sustain the momentum.

    It took 74 minutes to score the decisive five pointer from a line out maul, courtesy of Evan Roos, and when Libbok added the conversion, Ulster’s best bet was to play for a penalty kick and get a 10-all draw.

    This didn’t happen and when Ulster’s captain Rob Herring was asked what happened in the second half, his response was that of a well educated SACS Old Boy. Herring said: ‘The Stormers happened.’ He praised the Stormers second half pressure and dominance and said his team just could not get out of their half to create any pressure. As good as Ulster were in the first half, so too were the Stormers in the second.

    Those who have become accustomed to the Stormers ‘razzle and dazzle’ and try-scoring displays would have left the DHL Stadium feeling hollow, but in the context of the opposition, the league standings and the nature of the game, this was a very good win for the Stormers.

    Ulster are bloody tough to beat and the Stormers know this. They have now won 23-20, 17-15 and 13-7 in Cape Town against the likeable brutes from Belfast.

    The Stormers, who play the Champions Cup holders La Rochelle in Cape Town next Saturday in the last 16, could not have asked for a greater physical examination and intense match-day preparation. They also could not have asked for a better outcome when you consider the one-sided nature of the opening half.

    The celebration should be no less muted because of how it as fashioned.

    In Dublin the Bulls were brave in the opening 40 but outclassed in conceding 35 unanswered points against league leaders Leinster. It was one playing two in the league but the reality is there is Leinster right now and then the rest. The Dublin-club set the standard for consistency and excellence.

    The Lions, awesome against Connacht, were atrocious in Swansea against the Ospreys.


    Article written by

    Keo has written about South African and international rugby professionally for the last 25 years