Lions give Stormers the shakes
After establishing their credentials as title contenders with a momentous win against the Chiefs last weekend, the Stormers found out the hard way that the path to Super Rugby domination lies in being the best team in your own country first.
Still coming down from an emotional win against the Chiefs, they felt vindicated in choosing the direction they are taking this season, but Robbie Fleck’s men simply ran into a team that has a more intimate knowledge of where they ultimately hope to end up.
Johan Ackermann’s Lions, last year’s finalists, were well rested after their bye last weekend and put on a master show by using all the weapons at their disposal to win the game – their pack of forwards putting in an immense shift to complement a defensive effort that had last stand written all over it.
The moment that said everything about the visitors’ defence on the day was the stretch between half-time and the 50th minute, when the Stormers were camped on the Lions’ try line and, time after time, found themselves getting repelled, with Elton Jantjies making five tackles in that period.
In fact, the first time the hosts scored points in the second half was through SP Marais’ long-range penalty in the 70th minute, which was followed by a nod to how clinical the Lions are because they hit back through a Sylvian Mahuza try to shut off the game as a contest.
But the game – a frenetic and often too physical derby – was won by their pack, especially the tight five. The piano shifters were all grunt in the rather competitive scrums and metronomic in their line-out accuracy.
As a collective, the Lions’ eight were tireless, making their acquaintance with every blade of grass at Newlands by chasing every lost cause and availing themselves for yet another carry into the Stormers’ blue defensive wall.
The visitors’ standout performers were hooker Malcolm Marx, lock Andries Ferreira, scrum half Ross Cronje and Harold Vorster, who was pressed into service after a suspected knee injury ended Rohan Janse van Rensburg’s afternoon early in the game.
Marx was a wrecking ball in contact; Ferreira a source of line-out riches and industry in the tight loose; Cronje the picture of composure in all the carnage around him; and Vorster not only matched Janse van Rensburg’s decisive angles of run, but had the added bonus of softer hands and a silkier passing game.
For their part, the Stormers – who scored another eye-catching try by Dillyn Leyds – were let down by their discipline and fluffed their tactical lines in the first half, a start they wouldn’t recover from against a team that knows how to manage a game.
The result means the Lions, having already smacked down one pretender to their South African throne in the Sharks, top the South African group and the Africa Two Conference.
Earlier in Bloemfontein, the Cheetahs blew an early 24-0 lead and went down 41-27 to the Chiefs after leaving opportunities on the table and wilting in their own conditions in the last 50 minutes of the game, in which they were outscored 41-3 by the visitors.
In Pretoria, the Bulls were scrappy in earning only their second win in the competition in seven starts with a 26-13 win over the Jaguares in the final game of the round, with fly half Handrè Pollard kicking 16 of the points.
CHARGE EW Viljoen of the Stormers holds on to the ball as he’s tackled by the Lions during their Super Rugby match at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town yesterday