Stormers escape to claim big scalp

The Stormers won 25-24 at Newlands on Saturday thanks to a missed conversion by Brumbies flyhalf Christian Lealiifano. JON CARDINELLI reports.

The Brumbies will be kicking themselves. They dominated the Stormers initially, and a massive 16-3 lead after 30 minutes was not completely reflective of that dominance. Somehow they allowed the Stormers back into the game either side of half-time. And then, when the Brumbies had the chance to apply the killing blow, they failed to make it count.

In the 73rd minute, the Stormers were ahead 25-19. The Brumbies counter-attacked through fullback Jesse Mogg, who found space down the right-hand touchline. Mogg then chipped over the defence, and while Johnny Kotze and Juan de Jongh managed to track back, the Stormers only cleared the ball 5m from their own tryline.

The Brumbies would score from that lineout. David Pocock took the ball in space and then dotted down closer to the posts in order to give Leallifano an easier conversion attempt. Had Leallifano goalled that attempt, which was right in front, the Brumbies would have taken the lead and in all probability won the game 26-25.

But Lealiifano’s attempt struck the left-hand upright, much to the Newlands faithful’s delight. The Brumbies flyhalf had been flawless in front of goal in the preceding 73 minutes, but would miss when it mattered most. The Stormers then survived the remaining seven minutes without conceding a point.

The hosts were fortunate to come away from this match with a win. The Brumbies had ample chance to put the Stormers away in the first half, and through that conversion attempt in the 73rd minute. There were a number of decisions that went against the Brumbies in the second half, and it’s fair to say they were fighting the referee Stuart Berry as much as a resurgent Stormers side in those last 40 minutes.

Demetri Catrakilis deserves credit for a kicking performance that, as the scoreline suggests, won the Stormers the game. The Stormers flyhalf converted six out of seven attempts on goal. He also took a superb option in the 67th minute when he slipped back into the pocket and slotted a 40m drop goal. That kick gave the Stormers a 25-19 advantage at an important stage of the game.

In general play, Catrakilis spent a lot of time behind the gainline. Damian de Allende also battled to make an impact, and dropped a few balls. One of these errors led to a try for Joe Tomane in the first half.

The Stormers backline was under pressure because their pack was under pressure. The Cape side bossed the scrums, but found it hard to live with the Brumbies at the breakdown.

But the contest changed in the second stanza. The Stormers weren’t in the game in the first half, but through the kicking of Catrakilis, they remained in touch on the scoreboard at 16-9. While their decision-making and execution were inconsistent, they played the game in the right areas in the second half.

The Brumbies were forced to counter from deep late in the game, and exposed the Stormers in the wider channels. The visitors then made the big play when Pocock scored from the lineout, but would blow a chance of victory when Lealiifano hit the post.

The result takes the Stormers to the top of the South African conference, but they should know that they were fortunate to escape with this win. They have plenty to rectify if they are going to compete against the better teams in the play-offs.

Stormers – Try: Schalk Burger. Conversion: Demetri Catrakilis. Penalties: Catrakilis (5). Drop goal: Catrakilis.

Brumbies –  Tries: Joe Tomane, David Pocock.  Conversion: Christian Lealiifano. Penalties: Lealiifano (3), Jesse Mogg.

Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Eben Etzebeth 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Allistair Vermaak, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Jean Kleyn, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22  Kurt Coleman, 23 Huw Jones.

Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Robbie Coleman, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 JP Smith.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 James Dargaville, 23 Nigel Ah Wong.

Photo: Peter Heeger/Gallo Images

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Jon Cardinelli