The Stormers produced one of their performances of the season when they edged their bitter rivals the Bulls 24-23 in a highly-entertaining South African derby at Newlands on Saturday.
The Bulls bullied the Stormers in their first encounter earlier this season at Loftus Versfeld, when former Blitzbok star Rosko Specman announced himself on the Super Rugby stage in grand fashion.
But the Stormers returned the favour in front of just under 20 000 fans on a beautiful autumn day in the Cape, and should have won by a greater margin were it not for a try after the full-time hooter by Manie Libbok for the visitors.
The Stormers started the match with a lot of intensity knowing full well that their remaining interest in Super Rugby hinged on this result. The home side thought they had scored early on when scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies went over. However, the television match official ruled against the home side.
But the Stormers did open the scoring shortly afterwards when Man of the Match Sergeal Petersen stepped inside off his right foot for the first five-pointer. Flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis added the extras.
The Stormers found themselves 14-0 up on the half-hour mark when Seabelo Senatla ran in for the home side’s second try. Senatla, on for Dillyn Leyds while the wing was receiving treatment for a head wound, found himself in space on the left touchline after Damian Willemse had twinkle-toed past a couple of defenders.
The Bulls, though, came fighting back in the second quarter of the match, as they settled into their rhythm with Springbok flyhalf Handre Pollard chipping away at the Stormers lead through three penalties to send the teams into the changerooms with just five points separating them.
It was always going to be crucial which team scored first after the halftime break, and it was the Bulls that responded immediately through scrumhalf Izak van Zyl managing to barge over from close to the line following some good phase play by the visitors. Pollard goaled the conversion to put the Bulls in the lead for the first time.
However, the Stormers managed to get their hands on the ball for a crucial period in the second half when the Bulls seemed set to finally break their eight-year barren run at Newlands in Super Rugby.
Replacement flyhalf Josh Stander put the home team back in the lead with a penalty from 35 metres out, which ultimately the Stormers never relinquished again.
It was, though, not until a moment of magic from Leyds that the Newlands faithful could stop biting their fingernails in this intriguing contest. The Springbok winger gathered a wayward clearance kick just within the Bulls half, before pinning his ears back to weave his way was a couple of desperate defenders.
Leyds was eventually halled down just short of the whitewash, but the damage had already been done and he could just pop the ball in the hands of Jantjies who was not going to be denied this time.
Some courageous defending towards the end ensured the result went the way of Robbie Fleck’s team, and but for Willemse not dotting the ball down after the final whistle which allowed Libbok the opportunity, the scorline would have been more empathic.
Tries: Sergeal Petersen, Seabelo Senatla, Herschel Jantjies
Conversion: JL du Plessis (x2), Josh Stander
Penalties: Josh Stander
Tries: Izak van Zyk, Manie Libbok
Conversion: Handre Pollard (x2)
Penalties: Handre Pollard (x3)