The Stormers' hopes of winning the South African conference suffered a setback when they lost 25-17 to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The Cape franchise came into this match occupying third position on the combined log and would have fancied their chances of not only beating the 12th-placed Cheetahs, but getting a bonus point too.
However, the Cheetahs took an 18-3 lead and then withstood a Stormers fightback in the second half to record their third successive win against them at the Free State Stadium.
The Stormers may well have won the match had Demetri Catrakilis, who had extended his successful goal-kicking streak this season to 27, not been replaced by Kurt Coleman at the break. Coleman missed four penalty attempts in the second half, two of which would have given his side the lead at a crucial time, and the last that cost them a losing bonus point.
The Cheetahs had the worst defensive record in the tournament going into round 12, but it was the Stormers defence that let them down in the opening 25 minutes.
Former Stormers centre Michael van der Spuy got past Juan de Jongh to take play into the 22, and while the visitors briefly regained possession, a knock on from Siya Kolisi allowed Van der Spuy to finish what he had started and score the first try.
The Cheetahs struck again when on-loan winger Sergeal Petersen, who was making his debut for the Bloemfontein-based franchise, kicked ahead. Rayno Benjamin then got a boot to the ball and did well to collect it off the ground to give his side a 15-point cushion.
It was Benjamin who had prevented what looked to be a certain Stormers try early in the game when he ripped the ball away from Kolisi over the line.
The Stormers had to wait until the 28th minute to get their first five-pointer when Schalk Burger raced away down the left-hand touchline and offloaded brilliantly in the tackle to Dillyn Leyds. Catrakilis slotted the conversion to reduce the deficit to eight.
The Stormers' lineout had let them down against the Vodacom Bulls last weekend and they lost three of their own throws in good attacking positions in the first half. There were only three scrums during that time, which negated one of the visitors' biggest strengths.
The second half was a case of more missed opportunities for the Stormers.
Coleman missed with his first penalty attempt, as did Pietersen minutes later.
The Stormers then scored their second try when Nic Groom took a quick penalty tap and Duane Vermeulen stampeded over Willie Britz to make it 18-17 after 55 minutes.
They should have got over again, but Leyds' pass to Kolbe, who had made an outstanding counter-attack moments earlier, was poor.
The Stormers won a scrum penalty on Cheetahs ball, with the replacement front row of Allistair Vermaak, Scara Ntubeni and Vincent Koch getting the plaudits, but Coleman was off-target again. He would miss with another attempt soon after.
The Cheetahs then restored their eight-point lead when Tienie Burger forced a turnover and Clayton Blommetjies burst through a gap between Burger and Ntubeni to get his side's third try.
The Stormers pushed hard for another score, but ended up coming away with nothing as Coleman's penalty went wide after the hooter.
Cheetahs – Tries: Michael van der Spuy, Rayno Benjamin, Clayton Blommetjies. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (2). Penalties: Pietersen (2).
Stormers – Tries: Dillyn Leyds, Duane Vermeulen. Conversions: Demetri Catrakilis, Kurt Coleman. Penalty: Catrakilis.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Rayno Benjamin, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Sergeal Petersen, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Boom Prinsloo, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Subs: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Dolph Botha, 18 Ewald van der Westhuizen, 19 Steven Sykes, 20 Carel Greeff, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 Danie Dames.
Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen (c), 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Jean Kleyn 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Oliver Kebble.
Subs: 16 Scara Ntubeni, 17 Allistair Vermaak, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Manuel Carizza, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Huw Jones.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images