THEY were the better team in the first half, and they fought bravely throughout, but ultimately Edinburgh ended up a distant second best to the reigning URC Champions, who overcame their early match jitters and a shaky scrum to pressurise their opponents into a series of errors which they then ruthlessly exploited on their way to a well-deserved bonus-point win.
Afterwards, beaten head coach Mike Blair expressed his frustration at the way Irish referee Frank Murphy had handled the scrums. “I’m surprised that they weren’t penalised more,” he said. “We’ve got a dominant scrum, we’re going forward, the scrum is going to ground, and the referee is saying ‘play the ball away’. That doesn’t happen. We’re dominant and we should be rewarded for being dominant in that area.
“Stormers were excellent in their defence,” he continued. “I thought they put a huge amount of pressure on our attack, and that was their pinch point. Our pinch point was our scrum and I thought it was managed a bit to get the game going when, in fact, we had a huge amount of dominance there which should have resulted in more points and potentially yellow cards for illegal scrummaging.
“It’s not the reason for the loss. I thought Stormers were excellent today – they took the opportunities they got and they harassed us with their defence. They’ve got some incredible individuals – especially in the back-row, the centre and on the wings – who if you give them a sniff they take it. That’s the beauty of their game, which is about strong defence and forcing errors out of you and then using their speed and skill to make the most of it.
“So, that’s what won them the game, although I do feel that had we been given our due reward for what we were doing at the scrum then we could have controlled the game a little better.”
Edinburgh took a fifth minute lead through a Blair Kinghorn penalty following a Stormers offside, and the away team did a pretty good job of taking the sting out of their opponents attack in an opening quarter which was high in intensity, physicality and the sound of the referee’s whistle, if not entertainment value.
Mark Bennett came close on the right but was bundled into touch before he could get the ball down, then Stormers lost stand-off Manie Libbock to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on which prevented Darcy Graham collecting an inside pass five yards from the line. Edinburgh continued to turn the screw, with Hamish Watson being held up over the line, and referee Frank Murphy twice spoke to home captain Marvin Orie about the volume of penalties his team were conceding.
The visiting scrum was well on top, so they used this to crank up the pressure on the park, and that eventually translated into something tangible on the scoreboard when Pierre Schoeman picked up from the base of a ruck set up by Jamie Ritchie and burrowed over from close range, with Kinghorn adding the extras to make it 10-0 with half an hour played.
Stormers responded positively and opted to go to they corner rather than the three points when Kinghorn was penalised for a high tackle on Libbock. It proved to be the wrong call on this occasion because Edinburgh disrupted the line-out drive to win the scrum put-in, but it was only a temporary delay to the home team opening their account.
A flat pass from Libbock found Dan Du Plessis on the right touchline and the centre ghosted through two tackles before sending Angelo Davids on a weaving run which went all the way to just short of the visiting try-line. Stuart McInally did well to stop that attack with a desperate cover tackle but was then sent to the naughty step for 10 minutes for killing the ball, and from the penalty bang in front of the posts the Stormers – who had brought on veteran tight-head Brock Harris to solidify their set-piece – opted for the scrum, which provided a solid platform for a period of home team pressure which culminated in back-row Deon Fourie breaking from a maul and charging over the line on the stroke of half-time, with Libbock adding the supplementary two points.
Stormers powered straight back onto the front foot after the resumption, and grabbed the lead before McInally had returned to the fray, with Springbok hooker Joseph Dweba marking his debut for the franchise with airy off a line-out maul.
Ben Vellacott tried to spark something for Edinburgh with a quick tap but the Stormers were now in the zone at this point and Fourie won a penalty over the tackle, which Libbock stroked home from a yard short of halfway to stretch the home lead to seven points.
Stormers were again reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes when Evan Roos wrestled Haining to the ground, forcing his elbow into the Edinburgh man’s neck/jaw as he hit the turf, and Kinghorn kicked the points to keep his team in the hunt, but they couldn’t get any closer, and Libbock slotted another offside line penalty, this time from the left touchline, with just under 20 minutes to go.
After fighting a heroic tight battle and still finding themselves behind, Edinburgh tried to loosen the game up and it backfired on them when a reckless pass from Chris Dean was plucked out the air by Suleiman Hartzenberg, who cantered home unchallenged from 50-yards.
Stormers lost replacement tight-head Sazi Sandi to a red-card – perhaps rather harshly – with six minutes to go following head-on-head contact with Ritchie, and Edinburgh kicked the penalty to the corner then rumbled the ball over the line for Dave Cherry to get on the score-sheet, but Charlie Savala couldn’t manage the tricky conversion which would have brought the visitors within range of a losing bonus point.
A neck roll by Henry Immelman on Davids in the final minute handed Stormers one last chance to claim a bonus-point of their own, and they achieved that when Libbock timed his pass brilliantly out of contact to send Hartzenberg over for his second and his team’s fourth try of the afternoon.
Edinburgh will hope that Mark Bennett has recovered from a shoulder knock, Haining has passed the head injury assessment process and Ritchie’s bruised ribs have died down in time to face the Lions at home next Friday night.
DHL Stormers: C Blommetjies; S Hartzenberg, D du Plessis (S Mngomezulu 69), D Willemse, A Davids; M Libbok, P de Wet (H Jantjies 54); A Vermaak (B Harris 33), J Dweba (A Venter 58), N Fouche (S Sandi 52), S Moerat (A Smith 54), M Orie, D Fourie (J Pokomela 54), H Dayimani (E van Rhyn 69), E Roos.
Edinburgh: H Immelman; D Graham, M Bennett (C Dean 42), J Lang, D Hoyland; B Kinghorn ( C Savala. 70), B Vellacott (H Pyrgos 61); P Schoeman (B Venter 69), S McInally (D Cherry 69), W Nel (L de Bruin 61), S Skinner, G Gilchrist (G Young 64), J Ritchie, H Watson, N Haining (D Cherry 38-46, B Muncaster 51).
Referee: Frank Murphy
DHL Stormers: Tries: Fourie, Dewba, Hartzenberg 2; Cons: Libbock 4; Pens: Libbock 2.
Edinburgh: Tries: Schoeman, Cherry; Con: Kinghorn; Pens: Kinghorn 2.
Scoring sequence (Stormers first): 0-3; 0-8; 0-10; 5-10; 7-10 (h-t) 12-10; 14-10; 17-10; 17-13; 20-13; 25-13; 27-13; 27-18; 32-18; 34-18.
Yellow cards –
Stormers: Libbock (21mins), Roos (51mins)
Edinburgh: McInally (38mins)
Red cards –
Stormers: Sandi (74mins)