The Stormers opened their Super Rugby Unlocked campaign with a come-from-behind 23-17 victory over the Lions at Newlands on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
Up against the Lions – who were playing in their second match of the tournament – the Stormers spent much of the first half looking very much like a team that was playing in their first.
The hosts struggled against the aggressive linespeed of the Lions, who deservedly took a 10-6 lead into half time. That forced Damian Willemse and Warrick Gelant on to the back foot and both players kicked rather aimlessly, giving a dangerous Lions back three plenty of counter-attacking opportunities.
In that respect, the Lions will be disappointed not to have made more out of their available chances. As expected, captain Elton Jantjies was again at the heart of everything good on attack, setting up Sibahle Maxwane for a fantastic counter-attacking try. After a quiet debut, Burger Odendaal announced his arrival with a couple of wonderful runs and put Jantjies in for a try under the posts after throwing two dummies and sidestepping Willemse.
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There was a stage in the second half where the Lions looked like they were getting into their groove, starting to dominate territory and putting a makeshift Stormers back three under plenty of pressure with a few well-placed kicks.
At this stage Rikus Pretorius made a good defensive read and intercepted a pass, running a good 40 metres for the Stormers’ opening try. Regardless of whether that came against the run of play, it seemed to fire the Stomers up as, in their best period of pressure, Dan du Plessis rolled around a tackle and reached over the tryline to extend their lead to 13 points.
However, there was a grandstand finish. Some terrible Stormers defence allowed Odendaal to stride his way through from inside his own half and put Jantjies in under the posts. From there, the Lions piled on the pressure, camping near the Stormers’ tryline, but an opportunity for a winning try faded through a handling error.
Ultimately, the Stormers deserve plenty of credit for their second-half response after their poor first half, notably outlasting a team that has had more time to settle on their combinations.
Stormers – Tries: Rikus Pretorius, Dan du Plessis. Conversions: Damian Willemse (2). Penalties: Willemse (3).
Lions – Tries: Sibahle Maxwane, Burger Odendaal, Elton Jantjies. Conversions: Jantjies (2). Penalties: Jantjies.
Stormers – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Dan du Plessis, 12 Rikus Pretorius, 11 Leolin Zas, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Herschel Jantjies, 8 Juarno Augustus, 7 Ernst van Rhyn, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 JD Schickerling, 4 Salmaan Moerat, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Leon Lyons, 18 Neethling Fouche, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Nama Xaba, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Michal Haznar.
Lions – 15 EW Viljoen; 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Burger Odendaal, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Sibahle Maxwane, 10 Elton Jantjies (c), 9 Morne van den Berg, 8 Len Massyn, 7 Vincent Tshituka, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Ruben Schoeman, 3 Carlu Sadie, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Sti Sithole.
Subs: 16 Jan-Henning Campher, 17 Dylan Smith, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 20 MJ Pelser, 21 Hacjivah Dayimani, 22 Ross Cronje, 23 Gianni Lombard.
Photo: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images