Stormers choke in Christchurch

The Stormers blew a 10-point lead to lose 14-13 to the Crusaders on Saturday, reports JON CARDINELLI.

What an opportunity missed. The Stormers, so good for much of this contest, were their own worst enemies in the final quarter, conceding 11 unanswered points and living up to their reputation for playing the big moments badly.

Credit must go to the Crusaders. They were outplayed for most of the match, but stuck to their task for the full 80 minutes. Their effort in the last 20 ensured that they maintained an unbeaten record against the Cape side in Christchurch, and that they secured their first win of the 2014 competition.

The Stormers will be wondering how they let this one slip. For so long they defied an insistent Crusaders attack, and then struck in the second half to take control of the match. They should have closed this game out. They should have won.

It was a typical Stormers performance, in a good sense and a bad sense.

The Stormers have suffered something of an identity crisis in recent weeks, producing a loose brand of rugby that led to a defeat at the hands of the Lions and very nearly a second loss to the Hurricanes.

They reverted to type in Christchurch, and while it wasn’t always pretty, it was often brutally effective.

For much of the first half, the Stormers were on the back foot. They defended brilliantly in seemingly hopeless situations, displaying the necessary physicality, discipline and resolve to keep the Crusaders out.

Fortunately for the hosts, they were not made to regret their impotency during those early stages. They spent most of the first half camped deep in Stormers’ territory, and holding possession. They failed to translate that dominance into points, and here the captain, Kieran Read, should shoulder much of the blame. Read should have taken the three points when they were on offer instead of trying to break through the blue-and-white wall.

It wasn’t surprising to see the Stormers struggling on attack. They had few opportunities in the first half, but lacked the penetration to make them count. Their lineout was brilliant at the contest, but they battled for consistency on their own ball, and the scrum also had its problems.

Where they were outstanding was at the breakdowns and collisions. Deon Fourie was a menace on the ground, and overall the Stormers forwards did well to slow the recycle of the Crusaders’ possession at ruck time. Schalk Burger was a giant at the gainline, as was the youngster Damian de Allende. The inside centre made a massive statement in Christchurch.

The Stormers' kicking game was poor, with Demetri Catrakilis and Jaco Taute punting the ball away aimlessly and often gifting a turnover. Fortunately for the Cape side, the Crusaders weren’t much better, and it was an ugly kick by the home team that led to the Stormers’ try.

Burger did well to field the ball and then find Jean de Villiers with a magic inside pass. After breaking the line, the Stormers captain summed up the situation very quickly, and produced a kick of his own for De Allende to chase. The bounce was favourable, and after Catrakilis’s conversion the Stormers were out to a 13-3 lead.

The hosts hit back with a penalty goal in the 60th minute via Tom Taylor, and subsequently produced a team try that was vintage Crusaders. Reserve back Kieron Fonotia powered through Catrakilis for the finish, and even though Taylor would miss the conversion, the Crusaders were now only three points away from victory.

They played themselves deep into Stormers territory, and began to build patiently. It was the Stormers who would blink first, with lock Michael Rhodes rushing up offside and conceding the penalty. This time Taylor didn’t miss, and with four minutes to play, the momentum was with the Crusaders.

Desperate to redeem themselves for conceding such a big lead, the Stormers launched one final assault on the Crusaders’ line. This time it was the turn of the men in red and black to defend heroically. The Stormers eventually conceded possession, and thus their chance of making history.

Crusaders – Try: Kieron Fonotia. Penalties: Tom Taylor (3). 

Stormers – Try: Damian de Allende. Conversion: Demetri Catrakilis. Penalties: Catrakilis (2).

Crusaders – 15 Colin Slade, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Reynold Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Israel Dagg, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Luke Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Kieron Fonotia.

Stormers – 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jean de Villiers (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Michael Rhodes, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Pat Cilliers, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Sailosi Tagicakibau.

Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images

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Jon Cardinelli