Stormers squeak home

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One of the assistant referees messed that up when, with five minutes to go, they buzzed Fraser with a report that Force centre Luke Burton had cynically infringed to halt an attack.

The referee had no alternative but to sin-bin Burton and award the Stormers a kickable penalty, which replacement flyhalf Kurt Coleman duly converted to secure a 13-6 (halftime 10-6) victory.

Demetri Catrakilis completed the Stormers’ points tally with one conversion and one penalty, while Burton’s two penalties was all that the Force could muster.

The problem was not that the Kiwi referee was trigger-happy - the Stormers have averaged almost nine penalties-conceded per game, and he only awarded a total of 13 long-arms during the match. However, Fraser repeatedly found reasons to penalise the attacking team when the tryline was within spitting distance.

A bizarre officiating tendency was made more peculiar by the fact that Fraser went into the match having awarded 69 of his 92 penalties against the defending team this season.

Fraser’s apparent refusal to let either team cross the tryline not only snuffed out numerous promising attacks for both sides, and allowed transgressing defenders to go unsanctioned, it almost resulted in a stalemate.

After the hooter, Eben Etzebeth had to produce an excellent smothering tackle on Force fullback Dane Haylett-Petty to nullify what would likely have been a game-tying try. Instead, the Stormers left the NIB Stadium frustrated, but relieved, at the result.

A second successive tour victory increased their haul of log points to 26, and the Capetonians were scheduled to jet home this week to dust off the welcome mat for a visit from the Bulls in Round 11.

Though Fraser is unlikely to win a golden whistle for his performance, the Stormers effort didn’t deserve anything more than a “C” grade.

Catrakilis was clearly unimpressed with the marks given to his touch-finders by the assistant referees, but it was equally as obvious that the Stormers tactical unit, including scrumhalf Louis Schreuder and fullback Cheslin Kolbe, were not striking the ball well.

This kept the Force in the contest by inviting them to pitch a tent in Stormers territory, which they did for almost 60 percent of the match.

Fortunately, Etzebeth and Ruan Botha acted as a release-valve of sorts, combining to successfully contest three lineout feeds. The two Stormers locks took all but one of their own feeds and were the drivetrain in Super Rugby’s most potent scrum.

These positives were backed up by a Cape side that arrived hungry to tackle and Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Schalk Burger, Nizaam Carr and Frans Malherbe all took a bite out of the Force with an uncompromising defensive effort that operated at 88-percent efficiency.

The Stormers were less impressive on the other side of the ball. Kolbe, Carr and Dillyn Leyds spearheaded an attack that appeared to have no problem bending the Force line, but their inability to score - in spite of Fraser - against a team that had conceded 20 tries in eight matches was disappointing, and would have cost them against better opponents.

Addressing that shortcoming is a task made more difficult by what appeared to be a serious injury to the right knee of Kobus van Wyk.

He was the 100kg winger who chased and retrieved the opening kick-off to put the Stormers on attack in the Force red zone - Fraser caught the hosts loitering offsides and Catrakilis split the uprights.

Burger had a hand in levelling the score from the ensuing restart when he was penalised at the breakdown, and Burton kicked his first penalty.

On the 10-minute mark, a misguided exit play gifted the visitors set-piece territory and, when the Force heavies resorted to wheeling a rumbling Stormers scrum, Fraser awarded a penalty try.

The Force lost their captain at the start of the second quarter when lock Sam Wykes limped off the field, and Van Wyk followed in his footsteps eight minutes later after his right leg was twisted while contesting a ruck.

With the halftime break approaching, Burton eventually converted the Stormers’ inability to exit their half into three points for the Force.

The Stormers tried to maximise the remaining four minutes of the half from the restart.

No 8 Carr exploded into action, fending off two tacklers and side-stepping Haylett-Petty before being grounded just short of paydirt. Fraser didn’t notice defenders lounging all over the ball, and the Force scroungers came away with a turnover to bring an end to the half.

Burton opened the second half with a third penalty attempt which was denied by the left upright.

With 30 minutes remaining, Kolbe reversed the field with a superb chip-and-chase that fed the ball to centre Damian de Allende deep in Force territory, but a Fraser penalty against the Stormers at the tackle point saw to it that they got no return on that investment.

Soon after, a nine-phase attack ended in the same result.

Launched from a lineout near halfway, the Stormers advanced deep into the Force 22, with Coleman and Leyds using great footwork to exploit space, before replacement prop Alistair Vermaak was penalised for failing to release the ball.

In the 75th minute, Burton was yellow-carded for spoiling an 11-phase Stormers assault and Coleman kicked the 14-man Force into a seven-point hole.

The hosts responded with a multi-phase attack of their own, pushing the Stormers defensive line back into the 22.

Haylett-Petty spun out of Vermaak’s grasp and looked destined to score, but Etzebeth was there to bear-hug the Force fullback and, when the ball failed to emerge, Fraser blew fulltime.

Scorers

Stormers - Try: Penalty try; Conversion: Demetri Catrakilis; Penalties: Catrakilis, Kurt Coleman.

Western Force - Penalties: Luke Burton (2) .

Weekend Argus

Original source: Stormers squeak home

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