Cape Town – That they boast the leading points-scorer after round one of Super Rugby 2016 will be a source of some comfort for the Stormers, as they train their thoughts to burying a Bloemfontein derby hoodoo against the Cheetahs this Saturday (17:05).
Rookie flyhalf Robert du Preez banged over every place-kick he was presented with – four penalties, three conversions – en route to a personal haul of 23 points, including an inspiring try, in the mostly polished 33-9 disposal of the Bulls at Newlands.
That left him proudly atop the first-weekend standings by three from the Melbourne Rebels’ Reece Hodge.
The Newlands-based franchise would love the luxury of another 100 percent record from Du Preez off the tee against the Cheetahs, as it would enhance further the favourites’ (they probably will be given that label by most pundits) chances of going two wins from two in the competition.
Accuracy at goal is often enough a key game-turning device in local derbies, which aren’t exactly guaranteed to rain tries despite the best intentions of the protagonists.
That fact will be remembered with some ruefulness by many of the Stormers personnel who were involved in last year’s corresponding meeting in the Free State, when the hosts ran out 25-17 victors for a third Bloemfontein giant-slaying of the Capetonians in as many years there.
The game perfectly summed up their predicament at the time in the No 10 jersey, with the kick-proficient but far from game-breaking Demetri Catrakilis the narrow first choice -- and substituted at half-time as the Stormers trailed by eight points and clearly felt Kurt Coleman’s arguably better attacking game was necessary for the fightback quest in the second 40 minutes.
It would not have been an easy decision by then-coach Allister Coetzee as the “Greek God”, for all his other imperfections, had banged over a conversion and penalty in the half-time 10-18 score-line for his remarkable 26th and 27th successful shots at goal in a row that season.
But as things turned out, four crucial penalty misses in a row by Coleman between the 43rd and 80th minutes – the last one depriving the Stormers even of a losing bonus point – made a negative difference as well in the defeat.
By the time the Stormers regrouped the next weekend to importantly pip the Brumbies 25-24 at Newlands, Catrakilis had returned to favour and started again – rewarding Coetzee with a crucial haul of 20 points himself.
He has since moved on, of course, to Montpellier, but not after finishing third (170) among the top points-scorers in last season’s Super Rugby; a reminder of the ongoing importance of reliability off the tee despite the competition’s general culture of encouraging running rugby and plentiful tries, albeit by some franchises more than others.
The Stormers still have the 26-year-old Coleman on their books, although he was confined to bench duty again last weekend as Du Preez, four years his junior, grabbed his opportunity to get a bit in front in the pivot pecking order this year.
Expect the incumbent to demonstrate some growth pains over the next few weeks, possibly even to the extent that Coleman becomes a fairly attractive starting prospect once more.
But Durban-born Du Preez was sturdy in just about all departments against the Bulls, and if he simply kicks at goal with anything like the composure he demonstrated last Saturday, the Stormers may be well on the way to earning a first victory since 2012 (13-6) in the judicial capital ...
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