A powerful first-half performance set the platform for the Stormers’ 26-13 win over the Lions in Johannesburg.
The visitors scored all of their points before the break, and at that point, it seemed the Stormers would leave with the rarest of rewards: five log points away from home.
They had the lion’s share of both possession and territory in the first half, and although they botched a few early opportunities, their two tries arrived in such an emphatic manner that a four-try bonus seemed a formality. Unfortunately, the Lions switched from Hyde to Jekyll in the second period, lifting the tempo when they received more ball. You could accuse the Stormers of being more complacent, but the truth is the Lions were twice as dangerous in the second half.
Pietersen kicked four penalties to lay the platform the visitors, but the Stormers took 35 minutes before breaching the defence for their first try. Juan de Jongh spun a lovely pass to put Bryan Habana through a hole, and the Springbok winger then gifted the final pass to Pietersen. It looked to be a telling blow right before half-time, but the bad news for the Lions was that the Stormers were only just getting started.
The forwards started to hit their straps with the ball recycled swiftly at ruck time. A sustained build up ultimately ended with Jaque Fourie rounding the posts to the dismay of his former home crowd. Both Fourie and Habana proved their worth in this fixture, and the encouraging thing for the Stormers is the Bok pair do have that extra gear for the bigger occasion.
The Lions won a few penalties early in the second stanza and opted to drive for the Stormers’ line. The visitors repelled a determined surge, captain Schalk Burger and Andries Bekker responsible for a try-saving tackle apiece. All the pressure amounted to nought as Fourie smashed the final surge back to earn his side a turnover.
Carlos Spencer battled to put his unique stamp of proceedings, but you could hardly blame him given the dearth of possession on offer in early stages. The handling of the hosts was poor, and the air of desperation that characterised the 2009 campaign was prominent and certainly cost the Lions at crucial moments.
Reserve back Michael Killian brought the game to life when he cruised through the Stormers’ defence in the 63rd minute. The Lions started to come into their own as the play grew looser in the final quarter, but again poor handling culled many promising movements.
The scoreline will suggest the Stormers took their foot off the pedal in the second stanza, but credit must go to the Lions for their lift in intensity and tempo. Pietersen also had a chance to put the game out of reach, but missed two penalties in quick succession. In the big matches, this could be the difference between a win and a loss.
The Stormers fullback did rack up 21 of his side’s points and was a threat whenever he joined the line. Although Habana and Fourie added a touch of class, plaudits should go to Peter Grant, Gio Aplon and De Jongh for their all-round efforts. Scrumhalf Dewald Duvenage was also a key man with his boot spearheading the much-publicised kick-chase.
There’s plenty to think about following the first game of the season. The Stormers will hope to improve on their execution, as some poor decision-making and knock-ons in contact cost them possession early on. They also need to put teams like the Lions away when they have the chance, as they will know one log point could be the difference between play-off qualification and oblivion. If you’re not in the top four by the end of the round robin, you might as well be last.
The Cape side play the Waratahs at Newlands week and will fancy their chances. If they can maintain the standard seen in the first 40 minutes at Ellis Park, they will be strong favourites to down the Sydney-siders.
By Jon Cardinelli