The 19-19 draw at Newlands on Saturday allowed the Stormers to take an unassailable lead at the top of the South African conference. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Lions played a balanced and entertaining brand of rugby this season. They won consistently and, right up until their final league match against the Stormers, they pushed hard for a play-off place.
On Saturday, they failed to push the Stormers off their perch at the top of the South African conference. The result brings an end to the Lions’ Vodacom Super Rugby season, as they will have a bye in the final round of the league stage.
The result guarantees the Stormers the South African conference title. They cannot be overtaken by the Bulls, who lost to the Rebels in Melbourne on Saturday. They will advance to the play-offs, and cannot finish lower than third in the overall standings.
The Stormers were made to work hard to avoid defeat. They were dealt a big blow before kick-off when captain and Springbok No 8 Duane Vermeulen withdrew due to a neck injury. The hosts suffered another significant loss when flyhalf and ace goal-kicker Demetri Catrakilis was run over by Lions flank Jaco Kriel in the 16th minute. Catrakilis was helped from the field, and did not return.
Replacement flyhalf Kurt Coleman missed two attempts on goal during the first half, including an opportunity from in front of the uprights on the stroke of half-time. That miss ensured the scores remained level at 12-12 as the two teams headed down the tunnel.
The Stormers played the game with aggression and at a high tempo, but little accuracy. The hosts also conceded several costly penalties on defence, and the Lions punished them twice in the first half when they kicked the ball to touch, set the lineout maul, and then powered towards the tryline.
But the Lions will lament their own mistakes and inaccuracies. They battled to exit their 22, and their kicking game failed to trouble the back three of the Stormers. Indeed, it was a poor kick from Elton Jantjies that led to the Nizaam Carr’s try in the 52nd minute.
Cheslin Kolbe collected the kick, and then sparked the counter-attack with a skilful chip and regather. Carr ran a great support line, and collected the pass from Kolbe before accelerating towards the tryline.
Trailing by seven points, the Lions were forced to chase the game in the final quarter. They suffered a major setback when Jantjies was injured in the 64th minute and forced to leave the field.
But the Lions refused to give up. They hammered away at the Stormers tryline, and in the 74th minute, Steven Kitshoff was yellow-carded for a cynical infringement.
The visitors continued to push for a try, and were rewarded for their persistence two minutes later when replacement hooker Malcom Marx scored from close-range. Marnitz Boshoff converted the try to level the scores.
There was to be more drama when the Stormers conspired to give away possession in the 79th minute. Coleman collected a high ball, and then threw a forward pass to Kolbe. That loss of composure handed the Lions a scrum, and one final chance to attack.
The Stormers defence would have the final say. A crucial steal was made under the posts. Referee Stuart Berry then signalled the end of the game, as well as the end of the Lions’ season.
For the Stormers, they had done just enough to save the game and secure their place at the top of the South African conference.
Stormers – Tries: Nic Groom, Dillyn Leyds, Nizaam Carr. Conversions: Demetri Catrakilis, Kurt Coleman.
Lions – Tries: Faf de Klerk, Schalk van der Merwe, Malcolm Marx. Conversions: Elton Jantjies, Marnitz Boshoff.
Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Michael Willemse, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Michael Rhodes, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Jaco Taute.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Harold Vorster, 12 Alwyn Hollenbach, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Martin Muller, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Armand van der Merwe, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Kwagga Smith, 21 Dillon Smit, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Photo: Peter Heeger/Gallo Images