JON CARDINELLI watched the Stormers win 16-14 at Newlands by virtue of a commanding first-half performance.
The Stormers second-half effort was nothing short of shambolic. After leading 16-0 after 40 minutes, after physically dominating the Cheetahs to an overwhelming degree, they conspired to concede the advantage and very nearly the result.
The platform was there for the four-try bonus point they had been searching for all season. Their lineout was functioning beautifully, as was their rolling maul.
Their physicality at the collisions and scrums was putting the Cheetahs on the back foot, and flyhalf Peter Grant was knocking penalties over from all angles.
The confidence with ball-in-hand was apparent, as Jean de Villiers turned down a kickable penalty in the 23rd minute and instructed Joe Pietersen to boot the ball to touch. The Stormers then powered though the phases with Eben Etzebeth bursting through from close range for the game’s first try.
But instead of capitalising on a commanding lead, the Stormers allowed the Cheetahs to fight their way back. Literally.
The visitors produced a more physical effort in the second stanza, and managed to niggle and unsettle the Stormers forwards. While it was the Cheetahs who were guilty of poor discipline in the first 40, the Stormers were the sloppier of the two teams in the second.
Hennie Daniller crashed over in the left-hand corner after 48 minutes, and a difficult conversion by reserve flyhalf Riaan Smit brought the score to 16-7.
Starting No 10 Sias Ebersohn had struggled in the first half, and Smit seemed to play with more confidence and lend the visitors more direction in the later stages of the game.
The game was stopped in the 54th minute when both teams were involved in a full-scale brawl. Referee Steve Walsh put the entire incident on a white card, and also sent Stormers flank Rynhardt Elstadt to the bin for his role in the scuffle.
But now it was the Cheetahs’ turn to waste a great opportunity. They turned down a shot at goal, and then conceded possession several phases later. It was here that the Stormers’ characteristic defence came into play and denied the Cheetahs what could have been a game-changing score.
Willie le Roux snatched an intercept try in the 67th minute, and another fantastic conversion by Smit reduced the deficit to two points. It set up a dramatic final 13 minutes, and it was here that the Stormers struggled to escape from their own half, a range of poor tactical kicks allowing the Cheetahs to send wave after wave after attack into Stormers territory.
Fortunately for the hosts, the Cheetahs panicked with ball in hand, forcing the pass or taking the wrong option and eventually conceding possession.
The Stormers finally managed to get some territory, and while they battled to control the ball, they remained in the opposition half for the last five minutes of the game.
It will go down as another win for the Stormers, but they will know that they blew a golden opportunity to bank the four-try bonus.
The manner in which they smashed the Cheetahs up front in the first half and bossed territory and possession was encouraging. If they had maintained their concentration for the entire second stanza, they would have racked up four tries quite comfortably.
Because of their inconsistency, they will remain in second place in the South African conference and fourth on the overall log for another week yet.