Cheslin Kolbe scored a hat-trick of tries as the Stormers beat the Cheetahs 40-34 in Bloemfontein on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The Stormers came into this match having already clinched the Africa 1 conference title, while the Cheetahs had long been ruled out of playoff contention. However, there was still something to play for, with the Stormers eager to take some winning momentum into the quarter-finals and the Cheetahs wanting to win what was likely to be their last home Super Rugby match ever.
Ten tries were scored in this entertaining encounter, as both sides showed a willingness to move the ball around. Indiscipline also played a part in the high-scoring contest, with three of the Cheetahs' four tries coming while playing against 14 men, and two of the Stormers'.
The Cheetahs did well to fight back from 33-20 down after 52 minutes to lead 34-33 at the start of the last quarter, but a try at 72 minutes by substitute Sikhumbuzo Notshe secured the win for the visitors.
It took the Stormers less than two minutes to score their first try of the match. A chip-kick from the Cheetahs was collected by SP Marais and he then found Rynardt Elstadt, who went to ground. The visitors went wide from the ruck, and quick hands from Dillyn Leyds and Juan de Jongh saw Kolbe brush off the tackle of Raymond Rhule and score in the right-hand corner. Marais slotted the conversion.
The Cheetahs levelled the scores in the seventh minute when they attacked from a 5m scrum just inside the left-hand touchline. Clinton Swart was brought down just short of the line, and from the ruck, Reniel Hugo crashed over.
The Stormers had to rejig their back three when SP Marais left the field, with Seabelo Senatla coming off the bench on to the wing and Leyds moving to fullback, but it caused little disruption.
Niel Marais kicked a penalty goal for the hosts, before the visitors responded with their second try at the end of the first quarter. Damian Willemse sold Armandt Koster with a dummy and passed to Elstadt. The flanker drew Clayton Blommetjies and gave the ball back to the 19-year-old flyhalf, who dived over to score.
The Cheetahs suffered another setback when Marais was yellow-carded for kicking the ball away at a ruck. The Stormers opted to scrum from the penalty and several phases later Kolbe scored his second try, and slotted the conversion.
Blommetjies then gifted the visitors another five points when his no-look pass inside his 22 was intercepted by Senatla.
No sooner had the Cheetahs been restored to 15 men than the Stormers were reduced to 14, with Elstadt being binned for a cynical infringement at a ruck. The Cheetahs kicked for the corner and Elandré Huggett went over from the lineout driving maul. Marais' conversion made it 26-17 at the break.
The Cheetahs started the second half strongly and looked set to score when a skip pass from Rhule found Blommetjies. The fullback broke out of Kolbe's tackle, but instead of falling over the tryline, he opted for a one-handed pass to Sergeal Petersen, which was knocked on. However, they did get a penalty a few minutes later that Marais kicked over to reduce the gap to six.
Good interplay between Pieter-Steph du Toit and Frans Malherbe put Kolbe away for his hat-trick try and the Stormers' fifth, but Du Toit was then yellow-carded for a high tackle on Tian Meyer. The Cheetahs kicked the penalty to the corner, won the lineout and a short pass from the ruck to Swart saw the centre barge his way over, despite being tackled by Steven Kitshoff.
The Cheetahs then took a 34-33 lead when Francois Venter broke away from inside his half, cut back inside and offloaded in the tackle to Rhule, who only had to fall over the line.
With eight minutes remaining, the Stormers won a penalty on halfway and kicked to the corner. From the lineout driving maul, Bongi Mbonambi broke away and put Notshe over. Kolbe nailed the touchline conversion to take his match haul to 23 points.
The game ended in farcical fashion when Elstadt and Henco Venter were both red-carded after an off-the-ball scuffle. The Cheetahs kicked the penalty to touch and attacked from the lineout, only for Blommetjies to throw a poor pass straight into touch.
Cheetahs – Tries: Reniel Hugo, Elandré Huggett, Clinton Swart, Raymond Rhule. Conversions: Niel Marais (4). Penalties: Marais (2).
Stormers – Tries: Cheslin Kolbe (3), Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla, Sikhumbuzo Notshe. Conversions: SP Marais, Cheslin Kolbe (4).
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Clinton Swart, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Niel Marais, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Henco Venter, 5 Reniel Hugo, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Johan Coetzee, 2 Elandré Huggett, 1 Ox Nche.
Subs: 16 Jo Dweba, 17 Charles Marais, 18 Tom Botha, 19 Justin Basson, 20 Chris Dry, 21 Fred Zeilinga, 22 Ruan van Rensburg, 23 William Small-Smith.
Stormers – 15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Rynardt Elstadt, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Frans Malherbe (c), 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 EW Viljoen, 23 Seabelo Senatla.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images