The Stormers recorded their first win of the season with a dramatic 19-17 win over the Lions at Newlands on Saturday.
It was a drab match till those last, long dramatic minutes at the end. It was a match that was foregone conclusion till it ran over the 70-minute mark. Then came an agony of tension that lasted – agony building on agony, controversy shrieking -till Herschel Jantjies, the replacement scrumhalf of the Stormers, fetched a ball emerging too quickly from a scrum, and scurried some eight metres to score under the posts to bring the scores level. That created an outburst at Newlands of joy beyond belief, for it was taken for granted that the winning conversion was a formality, which it indeed was.
That try with that conversion lifted the score from 17-12 in favour of the visiting Lions to 19-17 for the Stormers on their beloved home turf, and 14 831 spectators could hardly believe what had happened on that warm evening.
It seemed in that one moment all the tawdry boardroom stuff at Newlands, the 40-3 thrashing in Pretoria and the errors of the first half had been touched by an alchemist and suddenly lead had turned to bright gold.
And the Stormers scored a try. After nearly three hours of playing rugby football, they scored a try, but it was a try that, for them, counted far, far more than the five points the laws lay down.
Maybe, just maybe, the end justified the other 85 minutes.
The Stormers changed their jerseys at half-time and their play changed with them, though it may have had something to do, too, with the south-easter which was behind them instead of in their faces.
The change of jerseys came about because of the confusing similarities of the Marvel Comic garb that they were wearing – the Stormers pretending to be Thor, the Lions Spiderman. The result was a lot of red, white, blue and black. But in the second half the Stormers came out in back, and their fortunes changed.
In the first half the Lions dominated the match. They enjoyed over 70% of possession. The penalty count was 9-4 in their favour, and they had the better of lineouts, scrums and tackles. They also had scored two tries. They could have done more with their possession.
Penalties and excellent line-kicking by Elton Jantjies gave them two attacking lineouts. From the second they went through phases and then went blind where tough Kwagga Smith burst through tackle attempts by SP Marais and Damian Willemse to score. 7-0 after 5 minutes. Five minutes later Marais goaled a penalty. 7-3.
Another penalty, another five-metre lineout and another try, as the Lions bashed and then, on advantage, Warren Whitely got through Bongi Mbonambi to score. 14-3 after 28 minutes. Another 43 minutes would pass before the Lions scored again, and then it was a penalty goal in a half in which the Stormers enjoyed the advantage of possession and territory.
A penalty goal for the Stormers and two departures were the main events of the rest of the first half which ended with the Lions leading 14-6.
Firstly, Warren Whiteley went off. He was playing his 90th Super rugby match but seemed to be having a problem in his chest-shoulder area.
Secondly, Alistair Vermaak, charged into an opponent from the side of a tackle/ruck for a second time and was sent to the sin bin, a decision which the TMO seemed to insist on.
Marais kicked a third penalty goal as Vermaak returned and after that, to loud cheers, Eben Etzebeth came off the bench and into the match, over his injuries.
In the second half, Marais scored first, kicking a fourth penalty and it was 14-12 with 19 minutes to play. Almost immediately after that Elton Jantjies goaled a penalty. 17-12. The Stormers now needed more than a fourth penalty to take the lead.
As the match grew in tension, it seemed to good people of Newlands that their Stormers would never score.
Where the Lions had been penalised only four times in the first half, it was now their turn to be penalised – 10 times in the second half – and the Stormers tried five-metre lineouts and five-metre scrums but still the Lions kept them at bay, even when Marnus Schoeman had been yellowcarded. And all the time, the clock raced to an end. It got to 80 and still, as the Lions infringed some more, the clock raced past 80
Then it happened. There was a scrum five metres from the Lions line and near their posts. The scrum has low and firm. Herschel Jantjies put the ball and it suddenly shot out the back for about a metre. The scrumhalf scurried back, picked up the ball and raced at the posts to score the try that everybody who saw it will remember.
It was a gleeful match to win, a bitter one to lose.
Man of the Match: It mostly goes to the winning team, but this time it makes sense to name the relentless, strong, skilful Kwagga Smith as out Man of the Match.
Pens: Marais 4
Tries: Kwagga Smith, Whiteley
Cons: Jantjies 2
Yellow cards: Alistair Vermaak (Stormers, 40), Marnus Schoeman (Lions, 77)
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