CAPE TOWN – The fact that the Stormers won their Super Rugby Unlocked opener against the Lions at Newlands on Saturday despite producing a performance that was far from their best is probably the biggest positive they can take from the game.
The fact that they beat a team who already had 80 minutes of competitive rugby under the belt – which came in the form of an absolute thriller at Kings Park – was also something. And then there was that ending…
After leading 23-17 with three minutes to go, it looked like the hosts could very likely lose the game after Lions skipper Elton Jantjies’ kick-pass helped them work their way into the Stormers’ half and get them to within mere metres from the try line.
But the hosts held on.
The Stormers were overeager and rushed at times (this was evident in the handling errors they were guilty of in the first half), and the fact that it was their first competitive game showed – the Lions looked much more prepared in the first 40. But they weren’t perfect either.
The Lions opened the scoring with a penalty by Jantjies and shortly afterwards, the Stormers responded with three points of their own when Damian Willemse hit the target to level the scores.
It wasn’t long before Lions speedster Rabz Maxwane made his way to the try line in a way that would no doubt have had the Faithful nervously vocal as he sped downfield to get the first try of the match. Jantjies added the conversion to regain the lead for his side (3-10).
The Stormers came close to scoring in the first half a number of times, like after Willemse found touch and the team set up a lineout in opposition 22, followed by an elaborate piece of play from the set-piece that would have been brilliant had a try come of it (hooker Bongi Mbonambi had an open try line in front of him but lost the ball forward just short of the five-metre line). Shortly after that they were also close enough to get a whiff of the chalk after skipper Siya Kolisi smashed his way up before the ball was lost forward.
With four minutes to go till the break, Willemse took the score to 6-10. Despite a number of attacking set-pieces in the Lions’ 22, they went into the shed without having scored a try.
The Stormers’ backline was reshuffled in the second half after wing Sergeal Petersen went off with an injury. His departure saw Willemse shift to fullback, with replacement back Tim Swiel coming in at 10.
Ten minutes into the second half, Willemse helped the Stormers close in on the Lions’ lead when he added another penalty (9-10), and the real points came when inside centre Rikus Pretorius scored an intercept try to put the hosts in the lead for the first time in the match. Willemse converted to take the score to 16-10. They added to that in the last quarter when No 12 Dan du Plessis added a try, with Willemse adding the extras (23-10).
Jantjies, however, made sure that the Lions stayed in the game when he added a try himself (23-17). Willemse went for points to carry them home with three minutes to go, but sent it right of the posts, which was followed by an intense last few minutes.
The Stormers next face the Pumas at Mbombela Stadium on Friday.
Stormers: Tries: Rikus Pretorius Conversions: Damian Willemse Penalties: Willemse (3)
Lions: Tries: Rabz Maxwane, Elton Jantjies Conversions: Jantjies (2) Penalties: Jantjies