Stormers Finish In Top Spot
The Stormers leapfrogged the Chiefs to the top of the Super Rugby standings thanks to a 26-21 victory over the Melbourne Rebels at Newlands on Saturday.
It was an unconvincing display by the Stormers, who were outscored by three tries to two and became the first-ever team to reach the play-offs without once scoring four tries in a regular season match.
Deon Fourie, the selection bolter at number eight, was impressive in the back row and won an immediate penalty for the hosts from the kick-off, with Jean de Villiers surprisingly opting for the lineout rather than the three points.
The Stormers crashed it up but were unable to breach the line, but another early penalty materialised and this time Peter Grant was instructed to kick at goal.
The Springbok flyhalf made no mistake and kicked a second penalty moments later for a 6-0 lead after eight minutes.
The lead ballooned to 13-0 when Juan de Jongh danced his way through the Rebels defence to score under the posts.
Bryan Habana had crossed moments prior but the try was disallowed as he had failed to release the ball whilst being held in the tackle by Rodney Blake on his way to the try line.
The Rebels then enjoyed a period of continuity after seeing little of the ball in the opening ten minutes but their attack was thwarted by Fourie, who secured another textbook turnover on the deck.
The Stormers were happy to play without the ball and their touted defensive structures stood up against the Rebels surge.
The men from Melbourne adopted an all or nothing approach, turning down a number of kicks at goal in pursuit of tries, a mentality that proved counterproductive as there was no way through the watertight Stormers defence.
As a result, a frustrated Rebels outfit headed into half time with nothing to show for their efforts and 16 points adrift after Grant had kicked his third penalty in the final act of the first half.
The Rebels finally opened their account in the 50th minute through Rodney Blake, who burrowed over from a metre out for a TMO awarded try that Julian Huxley converted.
Three minutes later Nick Phipps was the beneficiary of some lackadaisical Stormers defence, scoring the simplest of tries with Huxley adding the extras to make it a two-point game.
The two-try blitz was a wake-up call for the hosts who quickly responded with a second try by De Jongh, Grant’s conversion restoring the nine-point buffer.
The match dragged on until replacement Rebels scrumhalf Nic Stirzaker sliced straight through and popped to James Hilgendorf who in turn fed a flying Cooper Vuna for the visitors’ third try. Huxley’s conversion made it 23-21 with ten minutes to go.
De Villiers almost sealed victory but with inconclusive evidence of the Stormers skipper grounding the ball, the hosts were awarded a penalty and Grant stretched the lead to five.
The Stormers managed to close out the game and claim first place overall, but it was an underwhelming performance heading into the cutthroat play-offs.
SARugby.com Man of the Match: Double try-scorer Juan de Jongh is the obvious choice while Andries Bekker had a good game both in the lineout and in open play.
Siya Kolisi made some big hits and carried the ball well but our choice is Deon Fourie, who vindicated his selection at number eight and quelled some of Allister Coetzee’s back row concerns.
Stormers - Tries: Juan de Jongh (2). Conversions: Peter Grant. Penalties: Grant (4).
Melbourne Rebels - Tries: Rodney Blake, Nick Phipps, Cooper Vuna. Conversions: Julian Huxley (3).