Stormers survive Lions scare
Andries Bekker (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - The South African Super Rugby Conference leaders, the Stormers, only just saw off a spirited challenge by the beleaguered Lions, with a hard-fought 27-17 victory in their derby at Newlands on Saturday.
The Stormers led 13-3 at the break and although they fashioned several second-half scoring chances, they seemed headed for a scoreless half until replacement loose forward Jebb Sinclair and wing Gerhard van de Heever crashed over converted tries in the final seven minutes.
The Lions infringed twice in the opening two minutes when the Stormers showed a keenness to run the ball and flyhalf Peter Grant exploited the second with a penalty goal to secure an early 3-0 lead.
Over the first 20 minutes both teams enjoyed passages of play where they held the upper hand, but both defences stood firm when the trylines were threatened. The Lions were impressive with their attacking variations on their sorties into the opposition's 22-metre area, but against the best Super Rugby defence their efforts were in vain.
Just after each side had goaled a penalty (6-3) with Grant and Lions flyhalf Elton Jantjies the scorers, the Stormers launched two penetrative onslaughts in quick succession from their own 10-metre line to take play up to the tryline. Only the second paid off as the Lions defence was stranded on the left flank where fullback Gio Aplon ran in for the first try of the match. Grant added the conversion for a 13-3 lead after 30 minutes.
Just ahead of the break the Stormers suffered a disruption, their second for the day, when injured wing Danie Poolman was forced to leave the field and was replaced by Marcel Brache. Earlier on, the flu-hit Joe Pietersen was an 11th hour withdrawal and Poolman was brought into a reshuffled backline.
The Stormers finished the half strongly without increasing their 13-3 lead by the time the half-time hooter sounded.
When the teams returned, the Lions absorbed the initial pressure but once they managed to break out of their half they caught the Stormers napping around the fringe of a breakdown play and skipper Josh Strauss scrambled through for a try, which Jantjies converted (13-10).
The Lions were fired up by this seven-point advance but in their eagerness to up their tempo, errors crept into their game and the Stormers managed to wrest the initiative, and they might have added a second try but Aplon was collared on the whitewash with a team mate on his outside.
With 15 minutes play left, the Lions threatened to turn the match on its head when they made several charges at the tryline but a mixture of sound defence and poor options left them empty handed, and instead the Stormers bounced back in great style with late tries by Sinclair and Van den Heever.
In the final minute Franco van der Merwe scored a converted try to reduce the deficit.
The Stormers picked up four points for their victory to extend their lead atop the South African Conference, and closed the gap on the Combined log leaders, the Chiefs, to four points with two matches remaining.
The Lions left empty-handed and remained bottom of both the South African Conference and the Overall standings.
In next weekend's Round 17 action, the Stormers travel to Bloemfontein to face the Cheetahs (Saturday, July 7 at 15:00), while the Lions host the Melbourne Rebels at Coca-Cola Park in Johannesburg (Saturday, July 7 at 17:05).
15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Danie Poolman, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Siya Kolisi, 7 Don Armand, 6 Tyrone Holmes, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Deon Carstens
Substitutes: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Quinn Roux, 19 Jebb Sinclair, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Marcel Brache
15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Butch James, 11 Anthonie Volminck, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Joshua Strauss (captain), 7 Grant Hattingh, 6 Derick Minnie, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Jacobie Adriaanse, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg
Substitutes: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Ruan Botha, 19 Jaco Kriel, 20 Michael Bondesio, 21 Waylon Murray, 22 Ruan Combrinck