CAPE TOWN – The Stormers fought back superbly in the closing stages to clinch a 40-34 win over the Cheetahs in their Super Rugby clash at the Free Stadium Stadium in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
Eighty minutes of sparkling rugby and 10 tries produced 74 points, but the final result remained a lottery a few minutes before the end when the Stormers’ replacements came to the fore, which crowned their side’s 6-4 try-count.
A host of cards were issued for a variety of offences and in the final minute, Henco Venter and Rynhardt Elstadt were red-carded.
The Stormers held a deserved 26-17 halftime lead after they held the upper hand for most of the first half, which they kick-started with an opening-minute try after a fluent downfield move.
Right wing Cheslin Kolbe provided the finishing touch and fullback SP Marais goaled the conversion.
The Cheetahs wasted no time to breach the opposing defence when five minutes later, lock Reniel Hugo crossed the whitewash after his team secured turnover ball.
Flyhalf Niel Marais added the conversion for a 7-7 scoreline.
Midway through the first half, the Stormers lost SP Marais through injury and Seabelo Senatla moved off the bench at left wing, with Dillyn Leyds moving to fullback.
Two minutes later, the Cheetahs pivot Marais slotted a penalty to give the home side a 10-7 lead, but the Stormers responded well enough with a passage of play that produced tries through flyhalf Damian Willemse, Kolbe and Senatla.
The scoring spree was sparked by an instance of inspired play by the SA Under-20 star Willemse, who produced some deft touches on his way to the tryline while linking up superbly with Elstadt.
Kolbe, the stand-in place-kicker, managed two of the three conversions as the Stormers moved into a 26-10 lead.
There were yellow cards for Niel Marais and Elstadt towards the end of the half which the Cheetahs finished strongly with a converted try by hooker Elandré Huggett.
Play see-sawed from one end of the field to the other, but the Cheetahs made their red-zone presence count with a second Niel Marais penalty, which reduced the deficit to six points at 26-20.
The Stormers were back in the picture four minutes later with a splendid team effort which Kolbe rounded off under the posts before he added the conversion (33-20).
Stormers lock Pieter-Steph du Toit was sin-binned soon afterwards for a high tackle, and this was the cue for the Cheetahs to unleash their attacking instincts which saw them running in two converted tries in the space of five minutes.
Centre Clinton Swart broke through after a five-metre lineout, and then left wing Raymond Rhule grounded.
Marais was on target each time, and the 14-point burst saw the Cheetahs in the lead for the second time at 34-33.
The Stormers needed some time to recover from the setback, and with Du Toit returning from the sin-bin, they came good 10 minutes from the end when they used a close-in lineout as a springboard for their next try.
Substitute hooker Bongi Mbonambi broke from a driving maul before sending replacement loosie Sikhumbuzo Notshe in for what turned out to be a match-winning try at the corner flag.
Kolbe, up against the touchline, converted brilliantly to open up a six-point lead, which Robbie Fleck’s team maintained to the end.
Cheetahs 34 – Tries: Reniel Hugo, Elandré Huggett, Clinton Swart, Raymond Rhule. Conversions: Niel Marais (4). Penalties: Marais (2).
Stormers 40 – Tries: Cheslin Kolbe (3), Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla, Sikhumbuzo Notshe. Conversions: Kolbe (4), SP Marais (1).
African News Agency (ANA)