Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – The Hurricanes were clear-cut winners over the Stormers at Newlands on Saturday … well, only for cheap shots and their bewildering ineptitude, in no special order.
Altogether more nobly and relevantly, John Dobson’s home charges triumphed in the columns that mattered: on the scoreboard, where the Super Rugby opener produced an unexpectedly wide 27-0 outcome in their favour, and for their superior devotion to the spirit of rugby union.
But the result came at a significant price for the Capetonians, a phenomenon at least partly attached to the cynical approach of their usually more revered and entertainment-minded foes.
While they will be chuffed by the four tries in their favour, the bonus-point nature of the victory and the rare defensive shut-out to nil of a New Zealand team, the Stormers and their supporters suffered the mortifying experience of their World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi only lasting 25 minutes before a late tackle caught him awkwardly off balance and unsuspecting, and may have caused ligament damage to a knee.
Later, and this time at least not linked to the rash of foul play from the ‘Canes, who boiled over in a variety of senses in the summer heat, another of their prize Boks in hooker Bongi Mbonambi – who had started his season in the competition for 49 minutes with admirable zest – was similarly forced off.
His was one of those accidental occurrences at a fiercely-contested breakdown where a player’s leg can get jammed at a bad angle and with excessive weight from other combatants coming onto it.
The stick of dynamite who is Mbonambi looked extremely uncomfortable when helped off, and Dobson and his lieutenants may have to brace themselves for medium-term absences (at best, possibly?) of both key warriors.
The Stormers do have a fairly wide array of squad cover in loose forward resources, and two starters there in Pieter-Steph du Toit and Jaco Coetzee were immense contributors to a victory in which they squeezed the life out of the Wellingtonians – general pack superiority a major factor – like a large, merciless jungle serpent.
But the situation in the important berth of hooker could turn more worrisome if Mbonambi can’t return soon.
Being able to call on the services of experienced, talented back-up Scarra Ntubeni is a comfort, but bear in mind that he has his own legacy of major injury setbacks: this would be a wonderful time for the wheel of fortune to suddenly turn more kindly in favour of the popular camp member.
Should Ntubeni struggle to handle the regular pressure of starting for a necessarily protracted period, or his personal jinx strike again, a much deeper problem comes to the fore.
Ramone Samuels was a long-term injury casualty last season, and his lineout throwing has a reputation for inconsistency even when fit, while Chad Solomon is more renowned for his run-around qualities than scrummaging power (a department the Stormers pride themselves on, as they simply reminded on Saturday) and muscularity in the tight-loose.
Hearts would have been in mouths in the home booth, too, when Ntubeni was crudely shoulder-charged to the throat and sent sprawling to the turf for a minute or to by ‘Canes substitute forward Vaea Fifita, who became the second visiting player to be yellow-carded … and certainly flirted with red for the offence.
Stormers flyhalf Damian Willemse was subjected to regular doses of roughhouse treatment – enough to suggest a premeditated tactic? – from the Hurricanes, while flanker Du’Plessis Kirifi was very clearly caught on camera applying fingers across the face of Du Toit during a one-on-one altercation.
The New Zealanders were so weirdly ill-focused on executing orthodox rugby skills (or often enough mere basics) correctly that you have to be careful not to hand out excessive salaams to the Stormers for this performance.
But they were very good indeed, bristling with constructive intent right across the park for large chunks of the match in gruelling conditions, and jack-in-a-box young Bok scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies significantly eclipsing his opposite number and more seasoned All Black TJ Perenara, the ‘Canes captain on a thoroughly forgettable day for them.
Yes, there were times when the Stormers looked a little too lateral and predictable in hand-to-hand play, but their mauling and scrambling was top-drawer.
It certainly took some doing to ensure a zero-points shutout for a Hurricanes team who were narrowly-beaten semi-finalists by the Crusaders last year and fourth highest try scorers from 2019’s ordinary season …
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