The Stormers boosted their slim playoff hopes with a 31-18 triumph against the Sunwolves in Cape Town on Saturday.
At this stage of the competition – and with their season hanging by a thread – the Stormers will be more satisfied with the result than at the way it came about. The win takes coach Robbie Fleck’s side into wild card playoff qualification territory at the expense of the Sharks, who play the Jaguares later on Saturday night.
However, a favourable result for the Sharks in Buenos Aires will see the Rebels, instead of the Stormers, relinquish their wild card spot.
The match itself was a scrappy affair, with both the hosts and the visitors struggling to get some fluency and rhythm to their game in front an embarrassingly half-empty Newlands.
While there were several positives for the Stormers, including some wonderful touches from debutant wing Edwill van der Merwe, a smooth return from injury for hooker Bongi Mbonambi, and an impressive individual performance from Jaco Coetzee, it should worry Fleck that his charges failed to seize the ascendancy at the set pieces, and that they couldn’t find the clinical edge to punish the Sunwolves defence despite creating opportunities to do so.
The Stormers made a shaky start to the game, conceding possession and territory to the visitors following two unforced errors from flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis that allowed the Sunwolves to strike the first blow with a Hayden Parker penalty.
The error count didn’t decline, but the Stormers eventually hit back when Mbonambi charged over the line for the game’s opening try. But their joy in taking the lead didn’t last long as they suffered a setback from another kind when duo Coetzee and Herschel Jantjies were forced to leave the field because of injuries. Coetzee would return later, but Jantjies’ contribution for the evening was over, with Jano Vermaak taking his place.
The Sunwolves enjoyed a sustained period of possession, but just as they worked their way into opposition territory, Dan Kriel read the play beautifully when he shot out of the defensive line and snatched the ball from the clutches of the ball carrier before freeing up his wing Craig Barry for a try in the corner. But the Sunwolves’ fighting spirit continued to shine through as they put the hosts under pressure to gain a penalty, which Parker duly knocked over.
The second half was equally abysmal for the Stormers, who failed to secure the bonus-point win.
After a scoreless third quarter and trailing 14-6, the Sunwolves’ star wing, Semisi Masirewa, carved open the Stormers defence to make it an eight-point ball game. Losing their try bonus-point didn’t sit well with the hosts and they answered with a 10-point haul to regain bonus-point territory again.
Unfortunately for them, the Sunwolves, and Masirewa in particular, weren’t done just yet. The flying winger split the defence to complete his brace, and more importantly, take over the Stormers’ bonus point. The hosts did have another chance to score late in the match, but the Sunwolves made a turnover on their own tryline to deny the Stormers.
Stormers – Tries: Bongi Mbonambi, Craig Barry, Jaco Coetzee (2). Conversions: Jean-Luc du Plessis (3), Josh Stander. Penalty: Josh Stander.
Sunwolves – Try: Semisi Masirewa (2). Conversion: Hayden Parker. Penalties: Parker (2).
Stormers –15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Craig Barry, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Edwill van der Merwe, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Jaco Coetzee, 7 Johan du Toit, 6 Ernst van Rhyn, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Cobus Wiese, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff (c).
Subs: 16 Chad Solomon, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 David Meihuizen, 20 Chris Massyn, 21 Jano Vermaak, 22 Josh Stander, 23 EW Viljoen.
Sunwolves – 15 Semisi Masirewa, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Josh Timu, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Saumaki, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Jamie Booth, 8 Ben Gunter, 7 Shuhei Matsuhashi, 6 Ryota Hasegawa, 5 Tom Rowe, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Conan O’Donnell, 2 Jaba Bregvadze, 1 Alex Woonton.
Subs: 16 Takuya Kitade, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Yuya Odo, 20 Masakatsu Nishikawa, 21 Keisuke Uchida, 22 Timothy Lafaele, 23 Akihito Yamada.