DAVID BARNES @ DAM Health Stadium
GIVEN that Stormers missed an injury-time drop-goal which would have forced defeat on Edinburgh in agonising circumstances for the second week running, there was inevitably some sense of relief within home ranks at the final whistle of this United Rugby Championship round three clash. However, the overriding emotion should be of frustration that a match they started with a bang – at home against a team which had lost its opening two games in this campaign – ended up fizzling out as a low-key draw following a scoreless second half.
It is far from a disastrous outcome, but this was the sort of game Edinburgh really should be winning if they want to compete at the top end of the URC table this year, and push for Champions Cup qualification. Having picked up a morale-boosting win at home to the Scarlets in round one, they have since lost away to Benetton and drawn here – and they know that in both of those matches the win was there for the taking.
“Not as frustrating as last week but there were elements of frustration in there,” conceded head coach Mike Blair afterwards. “We did some brilliant stuff in the first half but this Stormers defence is an excellent defence.
“It takes time to break them down and I thought we did that really effectively in the first half. The second half, I don’t know if both teams got nervy or the defences got on top, but each team seemed to shut up shop a little bit. Stormers tried to use the wind to their advantage ,and we did not want to give them any of that loose transition ball. It wasn’t much of a second half but the first half was good fun.
Twice in the first six minutes, player-of-the-match Jaco van der Walt dummied his way past a tackler to split open the Stormers defence, sending Darcy Graham scampering home for the opening try, and then Ben Vellacott in for a quick-fire the second. Van der Walt converted on both occasions.
The DAM Health Stadium was rocking at this point, with the rather bizarre celebration song for Graham’s try – a mash-up of Fred Flinstone hollering ‘yabba dabba doo’ and the Can-Can song – a particular crowd favourite.
But Edinburgh couldn’t sustain that early pace, and Stormers got a foothold when Scarra Ntubeni sent Warrick Gelant under the posts. Tim Swiel converted, then added a penalty after Edinburgh were punished for swimming up the side a line-out drive.
A van der Walt penalty briefly opened the gap back up to seven points but Stormers soon squared it when Evan Roos strolled through a yawning gap in midfield and sent Paul de Wet under the posts.
James Lang earned his team a penalty by going down like a sack of potatoes after colliding with a Stormers player as he chased the restart, allowing van der Walt to nudge Edinburgh back in front, but the hosts then conceded an offside penalty which led to Swiel squaring the match again just before the break.
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The second 40 minutes was a stodgy affair dominated by tactical kicking and a clear reluctance by both teams to thrown any sort of caution to the wind.
There wasn’t any sort of clear-cut scoring opportunities until the hour mark, when a scrum penalty just inside the Stormers half gave van der Walt had a long-range shot at goal, but his effort didn’t have the legs and the deadlock remained.
A few minutes later, Edinburgh sent a far more kickable penalty towards the touchline, only for the line-out to malfunction.
Then it was the Stormers’ turn to pass up an opportunity to take the initiative, with Swiel pushing his shot at goal to the right of the posts after Dave Cherry was penalised for going off is feet as he contested for the ball at a ruck.
There was late drama when Swiel attempted that drop-goal to clinch it, but it wasn’t to be for the visitors, and a draw was a fair result.
“What we need to try and do is maintain that [early control] throughout the game,” concluded Blair. “And we need to find ways of getting players like Darcy Graham, Damien Hoyland when he came on and Ramrio Moyano on the ball. They are our strike runners and they are the guys who are going to cause defences issues.”
Edinburgh: H Immelman; D Graham, J Lang, C Hutchison (J Johnstone 55), R Moyano (D Hoyland. 62); J van der Walt, B Vellacott; P Schoeman (B Venter 70), D Cherry, L De Bruin (W Nel 57), M Sykes (J Hodgson 71), G Gilchrist, J Ritchie, L Crosbie (M Bradbury 57), V Mata.
Stormers: W Gelant; S Peterson, J de Jongh, R Pretorius (D du Plessis 65), E van der Merwe; T Swiel, P de Wet (G Masimla, 71); B Harris, S Ntubeni (J Kotze 79), N Fouche ( S Sandi 62), E van Rhyn, S Moerat, N Xaba (M Theunissen 48), W Engelbrecht (J Basson 76), E Roos.
Edinburgh: Tries: Graham, Vellacott; Cons: Van der Walt 2; Pen: Jaco can der Walt 2.
Stormers: Tries: Gelant, De Wet; Con: Swiel 2; Pen: Swiel 2.
Scoring sequence (Edinburgh first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 14-5; 14-7; 14-10; 17-10; 17-15; 17-17; 20-17; 20-20 (h-t)