CAPE TOWN – It wasn’t easy at all, but the Stormers managed to hit the “reset button” against the Cheetahs to return to winning ways by 40-34 in Bloemfontein yesterday.
In the build-up to the Round 15 fixture, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said that they would focus on getting their synergy back and getting their combinations right after suffering a 22-10 defeat to the Sharks in Durban before the international break.
In a thrilling battle, the Stormers had the upper hand in the opening half of the match and scored six tries to the Cheetahs’ four, and the only thing more prominent than young flyhalf Damian Willemse’s superb attacking skills, and the attacking intent both teams played with, was the ill-discipline that blighted the match (referee Jaco van Heerden issued three yellow cards and two red cards during the game).
Speaking of Willemse, the 19-year-old made good use of his chance to start in the No 10 jersey with a composed performance, and he scored what was possibly the try of the game when he showed just why he’s so highly-rated.
A top dummy pass and an even-better line break set him up for a great run just before he sent an outside pass to No 6 Rynhardt Elstadt and ran into support to collect the pass back inside to finish off the movement. The junior star also worked hard on defence and his line-kicking was decent.
Another exciting performance was put on show by Stormers wing Cheslin Kolbe, pictured, who scored a hat-trick and added four conversions in his haul of 23 points.
The sweet-stepping back got the first try of the match after the Stormers’ backs played with some beautiful width and a string of passes to get the ball to wing Kolbe on the outside, who finished off the move to score in the corner.
For the Cheetahs, skipper and outside centre Francois Venter created a try that rivalled that of Willemse when he produced a fantastic run from all the way back in his own half in the third quarter, stepping and swerving past numerous defenders before putting wing Raymond Rhule away with a perfectly-timed offload.
Stormers hooker Bongi Mbonambi also deserves a mention for his contribution off the bench, and he single-handedly set up replacement loose forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe’s try with a powerful run and offload to Notshe after a ruck five metres from the try line.
And as good as the Stormers looked with ball in hand at certain stages, they will be disappointed with the number of handling errors they were guilty of (the Cheetahs were as well), while their performances at the set-piece, especially at the lineouts, was not something Fleck could have been too happy with either.
A string of penalties by the Stormers in the second quarter allowed Cheetahs flyhalf Niel Marais to put his side in the lead for the first time with a long-range penalty kick, to take the score to 10-7 for the Cheetahs after a converted try by lock Reniel Hugo, and in the third quarter, it was Rhule’s converted try that gave the hosts a 34-33 lead with 20 minutes to go.
After that, it was a tight one until the 74th minute when Notshe scored the last try.
However, the game was marred by an off-the-ball incident after the hooter, when Rynhardt Elstadt received an elbow in the face from Henco Venter, and retaliated, which saw both sent off.
The Stormers looked good at times, but if they want to be in the best-possible mental space ahead of the play-offs (which will definitely be against a Kiwi side), they will want to prevent having the same kind of tussle with the Sunwolves next weekend...
Cheetahs: Tries: Reniel Hugo, Elandre Huggett, Clinton Swart, Raymond Rhule Conversions: Niel Marais (4) Penalties: Marais (2) Yellow card: Niel Marais. Red card: Henco Venter
Stormers: Tries: Cheslin Kolbe (3), Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla, Sikhumbuzo Notshe Conversions: SP Marais, Kolbe (4) Yellow card: Rynhardt Elstadt, Pieter-Steph du Toit. Red card: Elstadt.