This was a game that seemed to be shaping up as a Dance of the Desperates and then in the second half it exploded into a classic.
Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus was in the stands and witnessed a first half in which the nervous rival SA teams traded brutal blow for brutal blow in the set pieces and at the break down before the arm wrestle gave way to some champagne tries in the second half, with the Sharks coming out on top - but only just.
Erasmus would have been impressed by a number of Springbok candidates, even if in a potential back-up role, stepping up. From the Sharks’ point of view Thomas du Toit shook off the Doubting Thomas’s, centre Lukanyo Am was startling in his excellence and there was another huge game from Jean-Luc du Preez. Sbu Nkosi was another who raised eyebrows with his lively play out on the wing. Am’s fellow centre Andre Esterhuizen was also huge.
For the Stormers, Pieter-Steph du Toit continues to show his enormous pedigree, and Damian Willemse and Siya Kolisi were massive.
The Sharks pack which had gone AWOL last week against the Bulls pitched up for work and the effort was there in abundance. While last week they should have been docked their wages, yesterday they deserved a bonus.
The Sharks had been desperate to start well after having been caught short by the Bulls the week before and they dominated the first quarter and were unlucky to be just three points ahead.
Those first minutes was brutal, with the opposing packs matching each other hit for hit. This was more like it from the Sharks after that powderpuff excuse for a performance against the Bulls. The Stormers, though, were up for it and although they spent the first quarter in their half, they sucked up the pressure admirably.
Almost to cue, the second quarter began with the Stormers’ first meaningful attack and only desperate Sharks defence kept the visitors from scoring, and the day was saved by a turnover from Lukhanyo Am, who snaffled a loose ball and kicked it down town.
The Sharks retaliated with a sensational break by Curwin Bosch that set up Makazole Mapimpi for an attack on the line. He was stopped but a penalty ensued and Robert du Preez’s attempt at goal hit the right upright. The Sharks’ fans would have been hoping this was not a bad omen.
But Du Preez made no mistake shortly after to make it 3-0 after the opening quarter had been all Sharks.
There was a potentially match-turning moment a minute before half-time when a strong Sharks attack up the middle of the field ended cruelly for the Sharks and fortuitously for the Stormers when Cameron Wright was ankle tapped and as he fell backwards, his pass fell into the hands of a Stormers forward. The ball was whisked out wide for Raymond Rhule to finish clinically and the conversion by Damian Willemse put the visitors in front.
It was an against-the-run-of-play score but it also illustrated how lethal the Stormers can be from turnover ball.
It said something of the Sharks’ determination that immediately after the whistle had sounded for the second half they responded with a spectacular try that had Am on the end of a kick nudged through the defence after a strong run down the touchline by the recalled wing Makezole Mapimpi, who showed his class and pace. 10-7.
A Damian Willemse penalty levelled the scores and then there was an exceptional against-the-run-of-play try by Ramone Samuels. A Sharks attack surging up field went to ground, the ball turned over and multi phases later the hooker scored in the corner. It was an exceptional try from turnover ball.
Fifteen minutes into the second half there was a quite brilliant passage of play by the Sharks backs that had Am slip a grubber through for Sbu Nkosi to gather and score although it was correctly judged to have been knocked on in the prcess.
Fifteen minutes from time, Jean-luc du Preez took an offload from his flyhalf brother Robert for the slickest of tries and the conversion made it 17-17.
Seven minutes from time Thomas du Toit was on the end on of a fantastic series of surges towards the line for the winning score.