OPINION: It was no surprise Stormers captain Jean de Villiers looked as if he had glimpsed a ghost in front of 48,000 people in Cape Town yesterday morning.
The victorious Crusaders haunted the Stormers in the very areas his side probably hoped to have an edge at Newlands Stadium.
Plotting the Stormers' downfall began as soon as the Crusaders, who left Kieran Read and Dan Carter in Christchurch, began their trip to the republic a week ago.
Over their laptops during the 14-hour journey from Sydney to Johannesburg they would have analysed the Stormers' lineout patterns, understood how they could pressure key jumper Andries Bekker and reduce the potency of De Villiers' backline by kicking behind them.
Then fullback Israel Dagg withdrew because of his hamstring strain and you could almost sense the smoke, created by the Stormers rubbing their hands in glee, drifting towards Table Mountain.
No Carter, no Read, no Dagg and no Owen Franks after 11 minutes. Did the Crusaders have no chance? Not likely, as it happens.
Tom Marshall, Dagg's replacement, used his acceleration as a valuable assist in the lead-up to Matt Todd's try, Luke Whitelock showed he is a player of genuine talent at No 8 and first five-eighth Tyler Bleyendaal followed the game plan perfectly when he repeatedly kicked into space in foreign territory.
As Sam Whitelock repeatedly plucked the ball out of Bekker's hands on the Stormers' lineout throws, you could sense the latter's frustration.
The damage to the Stormers' lineout was considerable; they lost six of their own, four in the first half. Whitelock was the major thief, able to either get in front of Bekker or rip the pill away.
While the Crusaders' own lineouts were hardly clinical, their desire to compete on all throws unless hard on defence reaped major dividends.
The emotions were there for all to see after referee Craig Joubert blasted the final whistle.
Usually Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder does little more than reach for another peppermint at the end of a game, yet he couldn't resist raising both arms in celebration in the coach's den.
But scrum boss Dave Hewett may have been the one buzzing most following this epic encounter.
The early departure of Franks with a rib injury forced Wyatt Crockett to switch to the unfamiliar tighthead side, allowing rookie Joe Moody to take his place at loosehead prop. The scrum remained solid.
Following the final whistle the emotional De Villiers blasted his side for falling asleep after leading 11-0.
He had reason to be disappointed but no-one should dare underestimate the Crusaders' contribution.
It was the result of magnificent scrambling defence, especially in those final frantic minutes, and belief in younger men such as Bleyendaal, Moody, Luke Whitelock and substitute Jordan Taufua.
It is unlikely those young men will forget the massive crowd at Newlands in a hurry. They should get ready to do it all over again.
Their buoyant team-mates will be telling them to prepare for a similar reception when they meet the Sharks this weekend.
- The Press
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