Joe Tomane scored a hat-trick in the Brumbies' resounding 39-19 win over the Stormers in the qualifying-play-off at Newlands. JON CARDINELLI reports.
You have to hand it to the Brumbies. They came into Saturday's match on the back of a 37-24 loss to the Crusaders. They were forced to travel all the way from Canberra to Cape Town for this play-off. In theory, the Brumbies should never had been in a position to physically dominate a Stormers side that had been resting for two weeks.
But dominate they did. The Brumbies were the more aggressive and accurate of the two sides at the breakdowns and collisions. They utilised the forward platform to brilliant effect, taking excellent kicking options to improve their field position. And when the moment to strike with ball in hand arrived, they made it count. The 24-6 half-time scoreline was an accurate reflection of a clinical Brumbies display.
What happened to the Stormers? It's the question that has been asked all too often in the wake of play-offs involving the Cape side over the years. On previous occasions, the Stormers have failed to bring the necessary attitude to the tackle fight, and have failed to display the necessary composure. Unfortunately for the long suffering Newlands faithful, it was a case of more of the same in the 2015 qualifying play-off.
Not that many of the faithful turned up to witness the carnage. Stadium officials recorded a crowd attendance of 28,987, which is some 20,000 less than capacity. Perhaps the faithful weren’t expecting this group of Stormers players to improve on a play-off record that read one from six prior to kick-off. In the wake of Saturday’s defeat, that record is now one from seven.
The Stormers did suffer significant losses in the buildup to the game. Captain Duane Vermeulen was ruled out with a neck injury on Monday, and Schalk Burger’s battles with a groin problem eventually precluded him from the game too. The Stormers would miss the leadership and physical aggression of both loose forwards.
The hosts made too many errors in the first half. Halfbacks Nic Groom and Demetri Catrakilis struggled behind a losing pack, but only made things worse for the home side with a series of tactical kicks that were often too deep. The Brumbies were the more accurate team in the air, their kickers and chasers combining superbly to secure turnovers and set up some great try-scoring opportunities.
Tomane showcased his sublime finishing skills with three tries inside the first 26 minutes. His third was arguably the best of the lot, as he used his power to hand-off opposite number Dillyn Leyds, and then out-pace the remaining defenders. For the Stormers, it was another example of a Cape player losing the contact situation.
The Brumbies maintained their physical effort and composure throughout the contest. In the league match between these two sides six weeks ago, the Brumbies were guilty of allowing the Stormers back into the game at half-time. On this occasion, they scored a fourth try right before the break to extend their lead to 18 points.
From there, the Cape side was forced to play catch-up rugby. Cheslin Kolbe snatched an intercept try and Catrakilis was accurate when lining up a shot at goal. But as a team, they just failed to muster the collective power needed to subdue and then penetrate this Brumbies defence.
Few would have predicted that the Brumbies would win this clash, and even fewer would have bet on this scoreline. It marks a sad and embarrassing end to the Stormers’ 2015 campaign. It's also a bad result for South Africa, who won’t have a team in the semi-finals for the first time in 12 years.
The Brumbies will advance to the penultimate stage, but again, the odds will be against them. They will need to travel from Cape Town to Wellington to play the tournament favourites, the Hurricanes. And yet, if they can produce the same intensity at the breakdown as well as the same accurate kicking display, they will have a slim chance.
They will have to march on without Henry Speight, however. The outside centre was red-carded for a reckless tackle on Juan de Jongh in the 74th minute, and could be suspended for the next week or so. The Brumbies finished the game with 13 men after Scott Fardy was shown yellow for a cynical offence near his own tryline.
Incredibly, the Stormers still could not score against the short-handed side. The Brumbies actually managed a crucial turnover on their own line, and then ended the game with a try via Jesse Mogg. This five-pointer rounded off a humiliating night for the men in the blue and white stripes. The 39-19 defeat marks the Stormers' heaviest loss in a play-off game.
The Waratahs will host the Highlanders in Sydney in the other semi-final next weekend.
Stormers – Try: Cheslin Kolbe. Conversion: Demetri Catrakilis. Penalties: Catrakilis (4).
Brumbies – Tries: Joe Tomane (3), Scott Sio, Ita Vaea, Jesse Mogg. Conversions: Christian Lealiifano (3). Penalty: Lealiifano.
Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Car, 7 Siya Kolis, 6 Michael Rhodes, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Scara Ntubeni, 17 Ali Vermaak, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Jaco Taute.
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Nigel Ah-Wong, 23 Robbie Coleman.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images