The Stormers held their nerve in the face of a vicious Cheetahs assault to win 20-10 in Bloemfontein on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The final scoreline does not reflect the Cheetahs' effort. If not for one transgression in the second half that saw Lood de Jager sidelined for 10 minutes, the Cheetahs may well have claimed another win against the Stormers in Bloemfontein.
As it stands, the Cape side has secured victory in the City of Roses for the first time since 2012. Coach Robbie Fleck will be pleased with his team’s two-from-two start to the season. Fleck will be less thrilled, however, with the quality of the scrummaging as well as that of the attack.
The Cheetahs were dominant at the scrum. Loosehead Charl Marais had the better of opposite number Vincent Koch for much of the contest. Later in the game, Marais was equally effective when packing down against Springbok tighthead Frans Malherbe.
This placed the Stormers on the back foot. The Cheetahs also managed to unsettle Stormers halfbacks Jano Vermaak and Robert du Preez. The Stormers backline as a whole battled to cope with the Cheetahs' rush defence.
The hosts did lapse once in the first half when they left their right flank exposed. Leolin Zas showed his pace when he raced 30m down the touchline and rounded the posts.
Shortly after Zas’s try, the Stormers defence was breached for the first time in the 2016 Super Rugby competition. The Cheetahs won a lineout, and the ball was shifted quickly to the backs. William Small-Smith then got his hands through the tackle to set up captain Francois Venter for a fine try. Fred Zeilinga, who had missed an earlier penalty attempt, wasn’t going to botch a conversion attempt from right in front.
Where the Stormers had the wood over the Cheetahs was at the lineout. Eben Etzebeth and Pieter-Steph du Toit dominated the contest against the Bulls last week, and were just as influential in the battle in Bloem. Etzebeth was particularly good at the front of the lineout, making several steals to halt the Cheetahs’ momentum.
The scores were level at 7-7 at half-time. The Cheetahs made a good start to the second stanza, but that changed after De Jager lost his composure and flattened Du Toit with a high tackle in the 48th minute.
Down to 14 men, the Cheetahs did their best to cope during the subsequent 10 minutes. The Stormers botched several scoring chances, but stuck to their task. Eventually, flanker Sikhumbuzo Notshe scored in the 55th minute to help the visitors take control of proceedings.
Kurt Coleman replaced Du Preez early in the second half after the latter sustained an ankle injury. The pressure was on Coleman to deliver given his four misses in the 2015 derby in Bloemfontein that cost the Stormers the game. On this occasion, Coleman held his nerve to nail three out of three.
Coleman kicked two important penalties in the latter stages. The 72nd-minute goal stretched the Stormers’ lead to seven. The 75th-minute penalty gave the visitors a 10-point buffer.
The Cheetahs attempted to reduce the deficit in the dying moments. Their best attacking opportunity, however, came to nought when Etzebeth won yet another ball against the throw at the lineout.
The Stormers claimed four log points to consolidate their position at the top of the Africa 1 conference. The Cheetahs finished the game empty-handed as far as log points were concerned.
Cheetahs – Try: Francois Venter: Conversion: Fred Zeilinga. Penalty: Zeilinga.
Stormers – Tries: Leolin Zas, Sikhumbuzo Notshe. Conversions: Robert du Preez, Kurt Coleman. Penalties: Coleman (2).
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Niell Jordaan, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Paul Schoeman, 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Luan de Bruin, 19 Francois Uys, 20 Boom Prinsloo, 21 Henco Venter, 22 Tian Meyer, 23 Niel Marais.
Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 Johnny Kotze, 12 Juan de Jongh (c), 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Oli Kebble.
Subs: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Frans Malherbe (c), 19 JD Schickerling, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Huw Jones.
Photo: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images