The Stormers defended excellently in the dying minutes to secure a 22-19 win over the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday, writes RYAN VREDE.
The Lions could have settled for a draw but twice turned down easy penalties in favour of going for the win. Fortune didn't favour the brave on this occasion, with the Stormers holding on to their unbeaten record.
The ground was pounded by torrential rainfall an hour before play, making handling difficult and forcing the sides to keep the ball close or punt tactically for territory. Neither side employed either tactic well enough to trouble the other consistently, with many attacks breaking down between the 22m lines.
But the Lions found their groove just before the end of the first quarter, eating away at the Stormers defence through multiple phases, Warrick Tecklenberg rounding off the surge and Elton Jantjies adding the conversion to go with an earlier penalty.
The Stormers responded well after their slow start, bossing possession and camping in the Lions' red zone. Twice they were held up over the tryline and pressed hard for the try thereafter, but ultimately came away with just a penalty for their efforts.
The Cape side looked good when they stayed patient through phases, but that patience was exhibited too seldom. They often looked to lift the attacking tempo and involve strike runners away from their support. The Lions breakdown work wasn't found wanting.
Stormers flyhalf Demtri Catrakilis banked two more penalties to leave his side trailing by just four points at the break (13-9). On the evidence of the first half, the Stormers, despite being behind, looked the likely victors. The Lions hadn't entered their 22m area since the 17th minute and they would have felt confident of remedying their shortcomings.
Jantjies and Catrakilis traded penalties after the restart, but the Stormers continued to botch good field positions, either through breakdown turnovers or inaccurate lineout feeds. It would be remiss not to credit the Lions' physical, accurate and tireless defence, which contributed significantly to their opponent's struggles.
The Stormers had no rebuttal to their efforts in this regard and, trailing 19-12 going into the final quarter, they became increasingly desperate in their play. Gone was the territorial dominance they enjoyed for much of the match, curtailed by the Lions' strong kicking game, which pinned them deep in their half. This left the Stormers with two options – the kick return or high-risk counter – neither of which they were able to execute with the requisite efficiency.
Catrakilis goaled a 50m penalty to get his side within four points, and going into the final 10 minutes the Stormers once again looked odds on for the win. The Lions resistance finally crumbled three minutes from fulltime, Siya Kolisi scoring after a powerful rolling maul. Kurt Coleman nailed the conversion from the touchline.
The remaining minutes were breathless. The Lions had an unsuccessful pot at the drop goal to level, then played through three separate moves for a combined 35 phases, twice earning a penalty, which they duly turned down. Stormers midfielder Damien de Allende made an incredible try-saving tackle in that period, dislodging the ball as Howard Mnisi was in the motion of falling over the line.
When the ball finally spilled forward signalling the end of play, the Stormers celebrated a hard-earned victory with the gusto it deserved.
Stormers – Try: Siya Kolisi. Conversion: Kurt Coleman. Penalties: Demetri Catrakilis (5).
Lions – Try: Warwick Tecklenberg. Conversion: Elton Jantjies. Penalties: Jantjies (4).
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Schalk van der Merwe.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Corné Fourie, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Robert Kruger, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Ross Cronje, 22 Jaco van der Walt, 23 Howard Mnisi.
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 Michael Rhodes, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Jurie van Vuuren, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Manuel Carizza, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Huw Jones.
Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix