Stormers hold off gutsy Lions

SIMON BORCHARDT reports on the Stormers’ unconvincing 24-19 win against the Lions at Ellis Park.

In the build-up to this game, much was made of the fact that the Lions had lost 11 first-choice players to injury. But their rookie replacements more than held their own against the SA conference champions, with scrumhalf Tian Meyer in particular looking like a Super Rugby veteran and the front row of Caylib Oosthuizen, Callie Visagie and Pat Cilliers – who had four Super Rugby caps between them coming into the match – achieving parity at scrum time, apart from one costly tighthead. The Lions dominated the breakdown, which wasn’t a surprise as the Stormers don’t have a recognised fetcher.

In the end, though, the Cape side was still too good on the night, racking up 18 points in the first quarter and then stepping up a gear at the end of the third to regain control of a match that was slipping away from them. But it was a far from convincing performance and the Bulls must be looking forward to their trip to Newlands next weekend.

The Stormers made the perfect start to the game when Bryan Habana tapped the ball back from the kick-off and nine phases later Tiaan Liebenberg crashed over for a try in his 50th Super Rugby match.

Fifteen minutes later, the Stormers won a tighthead and the ball went wide to Habana, who kicked ahead, raced past Warren Whiteley and dived on the ball just before it went dead for his 50th Super Rugby try. Joe Pietersen missed the conversion but slotted two penalties to make it 18-zip.

The Lions finally got on the board on the half-hour mark when a sustained attack on the Stormers’ line resulted in a try for Meyer. That gave the hosts a big boost and they began to dominate possession, taking the ball through 17 phases just before half-time, although they were unable to cross the whitewash.

The Lions’ fightback was evident by the fact that the Stormers had to make 55 tackles compared to their opponents’ 24 in the first half.

After 20 minutes of the second half that stat had blown out to 87-28 and the visitors’ lead had been cut to just two points after three penalties from Butch James.

But the Stormers raised their game in the final quarter and two penalties from Pietersen secured a win that takes them to the top of the combined Super Rugby standings.

The Lions did get a deserved bonus point when Andries Coetzee slotted a drop goal after the hooter, but they will be disappointed not to have got four.