The harder the Stormers tried, the more they shot themselves in the foot by undoing promising play with mistakes.
They are not looking like the URC champions they once were but the Stormers’ dogged 31-7 defeat of Zebre in Stellenbosch will give them something to work with as they begin the long climb up the ladder.
Many had expected the Stormers to annihilate an Italian outfit that had leaked more than 60 points to the Lions the week before but they showed more of the mettle that saw them beat the Shark a few weeks back and less of the capitulation in Johannesburg.
The Stormers had lost their last four matches and had not lost five in a row since the 2014 Super Rugby season, and with some key Boks back it seemed that a rout was on the cards.
But rugby does not work like that and the harder the Stormers tried, the more they shot themselves in the foot by undoing promising play with mistakes.
— DHL Stormers (@THESTORMERS) December 2, 2023
The cohesion is not there but it is much easier to fix things in training when confidence has been boosted by a victory.
The Stormers started like a house on fire and it took 12 minutes before the Zebre wall broke, with the irrepressible Evan Roos forcing himself over.
From the onset, the Stormers had a stranglehold on the set scrums. They also had big Ruben van Heerden in the vanguard of their forward surges and he was the deserved Man of the Match.
Yet the Stormers couldn’t put the niggly Italians away. Zebre looked to have equalised with a try but it was cancelled because of a knock-on in the build-up.
Three minutes before the break, the Stormers found a moment of magic. Damian Willemse, who all night had been trying his best to jink through the defence, switched to a neat grubber that put Ruhan Nel in for the coolest of tries.
But how John Dobson would have pulled his hair out – had he had any – when his team forgot their discipline and allowed Zebre to score on the stroke of halftime.
Leolin Zas, who all evening had been having an unsavoury tiff with his opposite number, Simone Gesi, pulled the scrum cap off a Zebre player and the penalty against him culminated in the excellent scrumhalf Alessandro Fusco scoring between the posts.
The Stormers had not played badly but their conversion rate had let them down and with Zebre just five points adrift at halftime (12-7), the home team needed to make a big statement in the third quarter.
— BKT United Rugby Championship (URC) (@URCOfficial) December 2, 2023
It helped when Courtnall Skosaan scored five minutes into the half after big carries by the forwards and soft hands from Ruhan Nel but no real momentum was produced as the Stormers fell back into the pattern of making good strides only to undo them with a forced pass.
Often Warrick Gelant would launch a powerful attack from the back, beating a series of defenders, only for the beachhead he had created far downfield to disintegrate.
The evening for the home team was summed up when Hacjivah Dayimani rounded a host of defenders and with the tryline beckoning, he inexplicably dropped the ball.
The elusive fourth try was bagged at the three-quarter mark when Zas righted a frustrating night for him by finishing strongly.
The score gained further respectability five minutes from time when Willemse danced over from close quarters.
Stormers 31 — Tries: Evan Roos, Ruhan Nel, Courtnall Skosaan, Leolin Zas, Damian Willemse. Conversions: Manie Libbok (3).
Zebre 7 — Tries: Alessandro Fusco. Conversions: Giovanni Montemauri