JOHANNESBURG - The Stormers did just enough to claim an all-important 39-37 victory against the Lions on Saturday at Emirates Airline Park, but there will arguably be a greater sense of relief rather than outright jubilation after a narrow win.
Despite their triumph - the first in three matches - the Stormers still showed the vulnerabilities of previous weeks, and had the Lions not been so lackadaisical, especially in the tackle-situation, the Capebased side could have left Johannesburg with another loss. That seemed to be the final conclusion of this encounter after Rabz Maxwane scored a try in the 74th minute for the hosts but to the credit of the Stormers they hit back immediately through a try by Dan du Plessis, and a match-winning turnover in the 80th minute by Herscel Jantjies.
For all the endeavour the Lions showed in attack, the Stormers matched it in equal measure through hard graft that exposed the Lions' failings, and with a few moments of individual brilliance that kept them in the game. Although Stormers coach John Dobson was comforted by the character shown by his charges, he remained frank in his assessment after the game.
"I think the stuff that we wanted to get right this week, based on the last two weeks, was 22-meter attack and conversions, converting that into points, and I thought we were very good with that (on Saturday).
"I felt we let ourselves down in our contestable battles," he continued. "I think we lost that, whether our own contestables or receiving theirs - it cost us a try. We gave away tries on line-breaks.
"There must have been five or six opportunities where the last pass just didn't stick, which is good because we are creating those opportunities. In the first half we put ourselves under a lot of pressure - a try from a contestable, an intercept knocked up by Wandisile (Simelane) and the bounce of the ball from a little chip.
"So, we put ourselves under a lot of pressure, but I think we showed a lot of character in the end."
The Stormers were on the right side of the stats in several departments. They made more meters, beat more defenders, had more clean breaks and gainline carries, and passed and offloaded more, and were more accurate in their tackling but stringing a cohesive whole to those advantages has not yet materialised. Their set-pieces where a mixed bag as well - there line-out work was dependable in its execution, while they seemed to struggle at scrum-time.
Dobson acknowledged these concerns, especially with regards to the team's scrums, but was also content with the manner in which a young group of forwards, especially amongst the locks and loose-trio, went about their business.
"I think if you take out the quality of locks that are out," Dobson said, "like Marvin (Orie), JD (Schickerling) and Salmaan (Moerat) and a line-out specialist like Pieter-Steph (Du Toit), I think a for a youngster like Davis Meihuizen, who received quite a bit of criticism about last week in the loss against the Bulls, to run a line-out, play 80 minutes up here and get 100% is a great achievement for him. The way he stood up, I am pleased about that.
"I think we didn't get the return, and I think we went one or two down in the scrum penalties," he continued.
"Our scrum wasnt firing and I think the Lions were exceptional. You know, with all those guys in the back five missing, we were looking at the front-row but the Lions defended us really well, and scrummed really well.
“So, that was an area of our game where we weren't where we wanted to be."