RUGBY NEWS - The DHL Stormers’ challenge for South African conference honours in Vodacom Super Rugby was hurt by the defeat to the Jaguares in Buenos Aires but it was far from the death-knell to their challenge.
It is a sign of how closely fought - some would say mediocre - the South African conference is that bonus points have suddenly become such big talking points.
It happened the previous week when the Stormers gave one away needlessly to the Bulls, and with the Pretoria team as leaders of the conference still just four points ahead of the Cape team, that gift point given away hasn’t lost significance.
At the same time though the Stormers pulled one back when they scored a try four minutes from time in Buenos Aires to grab a losing bonus point that looked unlikely when the Jaguares were awarded a penalty try and JJ Engelbrecht was yellow carded a few minutes before that. The Stormers could even have won the game had it not been for the lineout mistake that ended the contest when the Stormers were in a strong attacking position.
That last error was a repeat of something that has happened a few times to the Stormers in the recent past, with the stand-out costly missed lineouts that potentially cost the Stormers important away victories coming in Wellington this season and in Sydney last year. That what should be a fixable area of play keeps coming back to haunt him should be of concern to coach Robbie Fleck.
The Stormers haven’t capitalised on their away win over the Rebels at the end of their Australasian tour to the extent that they should have, and the loss to the Brumbies at home was a setback. It was always going to be a tough challenge against the Jaguares, who are no in good form, in Buenos Aires, but had the Stormers beaten the Brumbies - they lost by two points in a game where they wasted several scoring opportunities - the result wouldn’t have been as significant.
The crunch game for the Stormers is the next one against the Crusaders when they come back from this week’s bye. The champions are by far their toughest remaining opponents in a closing sequence that sees them travel just once - to Johannesburg - and play their other four games at Newlands.
If the Stormers beat the Crusaders, and at the same time the Crusaders beat the Bulls this coming Friday, they will be in the pound seats, although much could also hinge on how the Sharks go against the Chiefs in Hamilton this week and if the Durban side can follow up their unexpected draw in Christchurch at the weekend by at last finding some consistency.