So, the Stormers again felt the disappointment of experiencing a solid first half and a sombre second half. But this time for different reasons...
Cards. This time cards gave the Stormers a tough time after the break. But the character they showed to deal with the three cards they were dealt was just as important as the impact those cards had. But that character wasn’t enough to save them.
The Stormers had to win the game to keep alive their slim chances of making the play-offs.
And although it wasn’t the desired result, there were some positives.
The Stormers ticked their first box with a good start filled with intensity. It was a major improvement on their poor display against the Sunwolves.
They showed every bit of that motivation they spoke about in the build-up to the match and also had a great start at the set-piece when they got away with the ball at a defensive line-out.
The Stormers line-out continued to go well, but the driving maul would leave them with a bitter taste in the mouth thanks to the lead-snatching try by Lions replacement hooker Corne Fourie.
At the team announcement on Thursday, coach Robbie Fleck spoke about the Lions’ potency on the ground, and said that arriving at the ruck quickly would be one of the jobs they’d like to do well.
They did that early on, and scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage, especially, seemed to have that marked as a mission.
The Stormers were rewarded for their intent early on when flyhalf Jean-Luc du Plessis put in a nifty little kick which which was chased down and gathered by fullback Dillyn Leyds in the Lions 22. Leyds went to ground before Duvenage quickly got the ball to hooker Ramone Samuels, who did well to get just short of the line before he was taken down. Duvenage wasted no time to get the ball out before he dived over.
Du Plessis extended the Stormers’ lead with a penalty, while the Lions didn’t do themselves any favours with a number of handling errors early on. The Lions managed to get a try that was almost embarrassingly easy when scrumhalf Nic Groom exploited the lack of defence after they secured the ball at the line-out five metres out and sniped past Samuels after a little dummy to get the visitors on the try line.
It turned out to be a half of good vision and even better attacking kicks, right wing Craig Barry added a top kick-pass into space and wing Raymond Rhule turned on the gas to dive onto the oval in the Lions’ in goal.
The Stormers had enjoyed the upper hand in terms of territory and possession until then, but the Lions had a bit more say in that regard as the break drew near.
The Stormers were down to 14 men just before half time when outside centre JJ Engelbrecht was sent to the sin bin for a dangerous tackle on Lions fullback Andries Coetzee.
Du Plessis had an opportunity to stretch the hosts’ lead shortly before half time, but his kick hit the post and the score remained 17-7 when the teams ran into the tunnel.
In the second half the game wouldn’t quite be the same. A red card to Rhule for a no-arm tackle to Ruan Combrinck’s head knocked him down and saw referee Nick Bryant go to his pocket, and you wouldn’t be blamed for regarding the sanction as a bit harsh given the fact that Rhule was in mid-air in an attempt to charge down Combrinck’s kick before he connected with the winger’s jaw.
Shortly afterwards, the Lions’ Fourie continued his impact when he crashed over the whitewash to take his team to within five points of the Stormers, and he went over again – this time against 13 men – from a driving maul, when Bryant gave the Stormers another yellow, this time to Jaco Coetzee, after he had issued a team warning prior to the send-off. Jantjies converted to take the score to 17-19 and give his side the lead for the first time in the game with 20 minutes to go.
Du Plessis, who added some good tactical touches with the boot and some much-needed three-pointers, took the lead from the Lions claws when he slotted a penalty that took the score to 20-19 with 15 minutes to go, and what followed were some passages of play that showed that the Stormers wouldn’t let their numerical disadvantage control their night, and he added three more points shortly afterwards to bring a bit of a gap to the narrow margin (23-19).
But it wasn’t enough. Lions replacement back Madosh Tambwe ran in the last converted try to break the Faithful’s hearts and effectively end the Stormers’ season.