Man-of-the-Match Etzebeth and fellow Stormers locks Pieter-Steph du Toit and JD Schickerling teamed up to raid the Cheetahs lineout and break the deadlock created by a colossal scrum battle.
The Stormers scored two tries, through rookie wing Leolin Zas and openside flank Sikhumbuzo Notshe, while flyhalf Robert du Preez kicked one conversion, and his replacement, Kurt Coleman, added eight points with two penalties and one conversion.
Cheetahs flyhalf Fred Zeilinga converted captain Francois Venter’s try and added one penalty.
The six front-row forwards in last week’s matchday squad were lauded for the Stormers’ 33-9 win against the Bulls at Newlands, while an impressive shove was the one positive for the Cheetahs in their 34-33 loss against the visiting Jaguares.
As a result, the clash of the heavies was tipped as a potentially titanic contest in the build-up to yesterday’s Africa 1 conference match. The two tight fives exceeded those expectations, but this week it was the work done by the tall timber that proved to be decisive.
Etzebeth was on the receiving end of eight throw-ins as the Stormers won 13 of 15 lineouts, and the 44-Test Bok jumper shot down three consecutive Cheetahs feeds in the first half, and poached one more in the fourth quarter.
Du Toit and Schickerling also got in on the action in the second half, stealing four more balls meant for Cheetahs receivers.
The result was that the Cheetahs attack was starved of possession at the source, and their scramble defence was put under constant pressure.
Etzebeth’s successful contesting also tipped the game in the Stormers’ favour just when a tight scrum duel threatened to keep the Cheetahs in the hunt.
Like a classic heavyweight boxing bout between two sluggers, the Stormers front row went toe-to-toe with their Cheetahs counterparts, trading jarring blows.
For the hosts, loosehead prop Charles Marais got the better of Vincent Koch, burrowing into the sternum of the Stormers tighthead to halt their thrust.
Stormers juggernaut Oli Kebble delivered the most emphatic physical and psychological blow to the Cheetahs pack when he ejected Maks van Dyk from the top of a scrum in the first half.
The match was dominated by a captivating set-piece battle and it continued to rage in the second half. Koch, Kebble and hooker Bongi Mbonambi made way for Frans Malherbe, JC Janse van Rensburg and Scarra Ntubeni, while Ox Nche, Luan de Bruin and Jacques du Toit replaced Marais, Van Dyk and Torsten van Jaarsveld.
The Stormers’ first scrum was set in the shadow of their own uprights immediately after the kick-off as Du Preez’s attempted clearing kick was charged down.
The visitors survived a nervy start, settled down, and then dented the scoreboard after 15 minutes when Zas commemorated his starting debut with the first try of the match.
The Stormers converted an attacking lineout into a seven-point lead when fullback Cheslin Kolbe ferried a pass from scrumhalf Jano Vermaak to the unmarked flyer on the blindside, and Zas streaked up the touchline to score with Du Preez adding the extras.
Zeilinga missed the chance to cut the deficit by three points after Etzebeth was blown up for playing the ball from an off-sides position. But the Cheetahs flyhalf levelled the scores at the start of the second quarter when Venter cantered over unopposed, thanks to an elaborate, three-pass lineout manoeuvre that delayed the deployment of the Stormers cover defence.
The imperatives laid out in the Stormers’ half-time chat were disrupted four minutes after the restart when Du Preez’s left knee was hyper-extended in an attempted tackle on Cheetahs centre William Small-Smith, and he made way for Coleman.
Any possible opportunity for the Cheetahs created by Du Preez’s exit evaporated when they lost the 2015 SA Rugby Player of the Year, Lood de Jager, four minutes later. The Bok lock was sent to the naughty chair for 10 minutes after felling Stormers counterpart Du Toit in a high tackle.
De Jager’s absence coincided with the Stormers’ second converted try, as Notshe crossed after supporting a half-break by wing Dillyn Leyds, and Coleman stepped up to split the uprights.
With 13 minutes remaining in the match, Du Toit delivered a big hit on a Cheetahs runner, but took too long to roll away post-tackle, and Zeilinga fired the ensuing penalty over the crossbar to bring the hosts within four.
But Coleman put the Stormers back into a seven-point lead with a well-taken, long-range penalty on the 70-minute mark. He then made it three from three with another kick off the tee five minutes later to seal the Stormers’ first win in Bloemfontein in four years, and their first victory on the road under referee Craig Joubert. - Weekend Argus
Original source: Etzebeth stands tall for Stormers