CAPE TOWN – It took all of 73 minutes for the Stormers to find their fire, and when they did, it took them to victory as they snatched a dramatic 19-17 win over the Lions at Newlands on Saturday.
Replacement scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies was the hero for the Cape side, breaking from a scrum to dot down under the posts, with wing SP Marais slotting the winning conversion well after the hooter had sounded.
Coach Robbie Fleck will be a relieved man on Saturday night, as there was no way the Stormers should’ve won this game.
They looked aimless for most of the match, despite having sorted out their lineout problems that punctuated their 40-3 rout at the hands of the Bulls a week ago.
The Stormers lacked finesse on attack, and whenever they looked like putting a few phases together, there would be the inevitable knock-on or wrong option taken.
In contrast, the Lions were the smooth machine that finally emerged victorious over the Jaguares in Argentina last week, and they took full advantage of the lacklustre Stormers defence early on.
Just six minutes after the opening whistle, flank Kwagga Smith darted through the Stormers cover defence that had been slow to come back from a ruck, and it appeared that it would be a long day for the home side.
Marais reduced the deficit with a 12th-minute penalty, but at the end of the first quarter, Lions captain Warren Whiteley finished off smartly from a sustained attack.
The Stormers stayed in touch with another Marais three-pointer, and the longer the game wore on, the more the Lions lost their spark.
It was almost as if they were dragged down to the Stormers’ level, as the rhythm went out of their play, despite their opponents not doing much to deter them as the match meandered from mistake to mistake.
The Stormers also changed their jerseys from their SuperHero Thor outfit, which clashed with the also-mainly-red Lions Spiderman kit, into their black and yellow alternate colours at halftime, and that brought them some much-needed luck.
It meant that Marais took the home team within five points with a 51st-minute penalty to reduce the deficit to 14-9, and when he landed a fourth strike, it was suddenly 14-12 with 20 minutes to go.
Perhaps the injury-enforced departure of Whiteley had something to do with the Lions going off-course, but the Stormers were unable to capitalise on a number of visits into the opposition’s half.
One critical five-metre lineout was won against the throw by Marvin Orie, and it seemed that the Stormers realised then that it was now or never.
There was a marked increase in intensity when Eben Etzebeth came on as a replacement, and the Cape team began flying into tackles to unsettle the Lions.
The Stormers spent most of the last five minutes inside the Lions 22, and after a number of lineouts and scrums where the Lions kept them out, the big moment eventually arrived.
The ball actually squirted out of a scrum under the posts, and that saw Jantjies pick it up and snipe towards the line, and he managed to twist his body close to the upright padding to dot down.
Marais brought the house down with the winning conversion, and the beleaguered Stormers and Fleck lived to fight another day.
Stormers 19 – Try: Herschel Jantjies. Conversion: SP Marais (1). Penalties: SP Marais (4).
Lions 17 – Tries: Kwagga Smith, Warren Whiteley. Conversions: Elton Jantjies (2). Penalty: Jantjies (1).