Friday, March 15, 2013

Attending Stormers Rugby Match

The Stormers represent Cape Town in the Super 15 Rugby league.  For those who know the difference, this is rugby union, not rugby league.   The league is comprised of 5 teams from each of three geographically dispersed countries:  South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.  The jet lag problems of the Seattle Seahawks and other U.S. West Coast teams are nothing compared with what these teams go through, traveling through 8 or 9 time zones.

The Stormers have been one of the best teams in the league over the past 3 years.  They have reached at least the semi-finals in each of these three years.  Their winning percentage has been over 75% over this time period, but they have never won the Super 15 championship.  In that respect, they are sort of like the Washington Capitals ice hockey team of recent years.

Five of the Stormers also play for the Springboks, South Africa's national rugby team. This includes Jean de Villiers, who is the steady captain of both the Stormers and the Springboks.

The sign says “Stormers My Team!” in Afrikaans 

The Stormers have had a brutal early season schedule.  They opened up on the road against the Bulls (Pretoria) and the Sharks (Durban), two of the best teams in the league. They lost both games, due to some unforced turnovers and spotty offensive efforts. They were also trying to work in a new starter at fly half, who plays sort of a point guard type of role.  This player had been struggling with his kicking and overall play.  John watched the first two games on TV at our host family's house.

We attended the first home game, against the defending Super 15 Rugby champions, the Chiefs.  They are from New Zealand.  It was critical for the Stormers to win this game, to avoid going 0 - 3 and losing contact with the top teams in the league.  Sarah and John were joined at the game by Deidre, the daughter of our host family, and her friend Lauren.

Part of a legion of 30 Supermen who support the Stormers 

The Stormers play their home games in the suburb of Newlands, across the train track from the cricket ground where we earlier saw South Africa defeat Pakistan.  The stadium is beautiful, and can accommodate about 50,000 fans.  From where we sat on the Railway side, you can see Table Mountain as the backdrop behind the stands on the opposite side of the field.

Although Newlands is called a suburb, it's not that far from Cape Town.  The area around the stadium feels more like an urban village, with a few great pubs within easy walking distance of the DHL Stormers rugby stadium.  We stopped by the Toad & Josephine pub before the game.  It's right across the street, and has three different patios in addition to a good-sized indoor space.  The crowd was really fun.

Pre-game crowd on upper back patio at Toad & Josephine pub 

These visiting Argentinians chanted their own rugby songs 

The Stormers got off to a fast start, sprinting to a 10 - 0 lead only a few minutes into the game.  They got an early penalty kick (3 points), then scored a try (5 points) and added a conversion kick (2 points).  This set the tone for a high-scoring, entertaining affair.

The Stormers (in blue) await the opening kickoff

A Stormer leaps high to control a throw-in from the Chiefs 

The Stormers are 1 meter away from their first try 

The Stormer on the far left is in for a try to make it 10 – 0 

Sarah uses her thunder sticks as a fashion accessory 

The Stormers were ahead the whole game, alternating between a 2-point and 13-point lead.  They dominated in close quarters, similar to the running game in American football. But they gave up some easy tries to the Chiefs, based on a muffed kick and some uncharacteristic defensive lapses. They are usually a strong defensive team.

Stormers’ defensive line, right in front of us

The Stormers have once again done something good 

Getting ready for a scrum in second half action
Stormers get within inches of a try, but turn it over on a penalty 

Up 33 - 20 fairly late in the game, the Stormers then allowed the Chiefs to close to within 36 - 34 with about 5 minutes left.  The Stormers clearly deserved to win the game, but they had to hold off one final possession by the Chiefs.

In rugby, the game does not automatically end when the time runs out at 80 minutes.  The team that has possession of the ball continues on until they lose possession.  Unlike in American football, this does not mean a single final play.  In rugby, when a player is tackled, the team that has the ball pulls the ball off the ground, pitches it back to someone, and keeps on going.  So this can take a while.  It was nail biting time.

After several minutes of extra time, the Stormers finally gained possession of the ball and the game was over.  The near-capacity crowd breathed a huge sigh of relief, and the post-game celebration began.

Stormers win!  Stormers win!

Deidre, Lauren and John after the match 

Three rugby girls bask in the glow of victory 

More postgame bliss 

Stormers My Span!

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