CAPE TOWN – When Stormers coach Robbie Fleck called the Lions arguably the best team in South Africa in the build-up to Saturday night’s clash, a few of the Newlands faithful who were still soundly drifting on cloud nine after the win over the Chiefs probably said “No way”.
I mean, the Stormers have been playing phenomenal rugby so far, and possibly the most promising aspect was how they have stuck to their new approach even when things got tough (well, except for patches against the Sunwolves in Singapore).
Their conditioning has shown massive improvement, and it was as a result of that that the
And they did it again against Johan Ackermann’s team, only this time, the scoreboard stopped moving for the hosts in the first half as the visitors pulled off a 29-16 bonus-point victory.
The Lions have won a lot of admirers over the last year-and-a-half for their superb skill in keeping the ball alive, and they have scored some marvellous tries, both at their Ellis Park fortress and overseas.
But this win was largely built around two other factors. There was a prolonged 15-minute period of absolutely heroic defence from Warren Whiteley’s men at the start of the second half.
Time and again the Stormers pack tried to force their way over, only to be driven back by a determined red wall.
Also, the Lions’ tight five deserve a lot of credit for their work in the tight phases, where they put the Stormers under pressure at the scrums from the outset, while their lineout play was also pretty much faultless.
The Lions were not short on innovation either, as illustrated by a wonderful switch move between backs and forwards in the second half.
In the process, the Lions ended the Stormers’ six-match winning streak and bagged their sixth win of the season after one loss.
Calling the first few minutes of the massive South African derby a rocky start for the Stormers might be a bit harsh, but the Lions certainly had the upper hand at times early on, especially at the scrums, where they shoved the hosts back a few times, while hooker Bongi Mbonambi also struggled to find his jumpers in one or two lineouts.
The Lions scored their first of four tries after dominating the Stormers pack with a powerful driving maul to get over the line, and while the Lions might have called the most shots in the physical department, there were also a few great touches by Robbie Fleck’s team, especially in the first half.
They made great use of their lineout again to get the ball to their already-formed attacking line (and it almost paid off), while there were also a few brilliant touch-finders by fullback SP Marais.
Robert du Preez continued to build on his impressive form as he kept his goal-kicking record clean (even though the Stormers only had one conversion and two penalty kicks, one of which Marais took care of).
Du Preez also had a brilliant hand in the Stormers’ only try after the hosts switched play in midfield to find the flyhalf out wide, and he then sent a terrific offload to Dillyn Leyds, who put in a perfect chip kick and chased it down to score.
Captain and last week’s Man-of-the-Match Siya Kolisi was a menace at the breakdown area again, while he also carried well and made some great tackles.
Inside centre Dan du Plessis showed that he isn’t just a big shot when it comes to defence, as he showed off an absolutely stunning running line in the first half, before offloading to keep the Stormers’ attack alive.
Needless to say, he made his tackles again.
The Lions ran in their last try through replacement back Sylvian Mahuza, and flyhalf Elton Jantjies slotted his third conversion of the night to close the scoring.
It would have been another huge confidence boost for the Stormers if they could go into their tour to New Zealand undefeated, because confidence will definitely be needed when they face the Crusaders and, to a lesser extent, the Highlanders and the Hurricanes.
Stormers 16 – Try: Dillyn Leyds. Conversion: Robert du Preez (1). Penalties: Du Preez (2), SP Marais (1).
Lions 29 – Tries: Franco Mostert, Harold Vorster, Jaco Kriel, Sylvian Mahuza. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (3). Penalty: Jantjies (1).Independent Media