The Vodacom Stormers botched a 10-0 lead at halftime to eventually lose 20-15 to the Sharks at Newlands on Saturday in a fiercely contested opening Vodacom Super 14 match.
The Stormers played some brilliant rugby in the first half and deserved to maybe enjoy a bigger lead at the break. But the loss of their captain and talisman Jean de Villiers set them back and allowed the Sharks to stage a magnificent comeback effort.
De Villiers left the field with what seemed like a neck injury two minutes after halftime. His absence was severely felt by the home team and they just did not have the same bite on the attack.
The Stormers started the stronger of the sides and showed exquisite skills on the attack. De Villiers, Gcobani Bobo, Tonderai Chavhanga and their mates made their intentions clear from early on – they wanted to run the Sharks ragged.
Despite the territorial advantage and having enjoyed most of the possession it was the Sharks who had three chances to score via penalties in the first 13 minutes. Flyhalf Ruan Pienaar failed with all three attempts though.
The home side got rewarded for their enterprising play in the 20th minute. Outside centre Bobo scored the Stormers first try of the season after the home team launched a ferocious attack on the enemy try-line.
The try came after the home side took the ball through six phases.
It all started when Sharks fullback Stefan Terblanche hasty kick under pressure from close to his try-line enabled hooker Schalk Brits to launch a counter-attack and from there the Stormers put the defence under immense pressure.
Bobo weaved his magic by stepping inside Deon Carsten’s attempted tackle and barging over from 5 metres out despite Pienaar and Odwa Ndugane’s desperate attempts to keep him away from their line.
Flyhalf Peter Grant converted from far out to give the Stormers supporters amongst the 48 000-strong crowd more reason to cheer.
Francois Louw left the park in the 41st minute for blood treatment and Luke Watson went on as flank to earn his 50th Super 14 cap for the Stormers.
The Sharks slowly but surely crawled their way back into contention and enjoyed territorial advantage during the last ten minutes. The Stormers had to pull out all the stops on defence and in the 38th minute it was just brave tackling from Chavhanga and Bobo that prevented Sharks captain Johann Muller from scoring in the right-hand corner.
Fullback Conrad Jantjes left the field one minute before halftime with a bleeding nose and Percy Montgomery entered the fray to a loud cheer from the crowd.
The Stormers managed to stave off the Shark attack and launched another dangerous foray into enemy territory, resulting in a penalty in front of the posts. Grant slotted the kick to give the home side a 10-0 lead at halftime.
Immediately after the restart the Sharks forced the Stormers again to defend like demons. During that stanza De Villiers took a heavy knock and play was interrupted for a few minutes while medical staff attended to the centre. He left the field on a stretcher and Joe Pietersen replaced him.
Pietersen went to flyhalf with Grant moving to inside centre.
Rory Kockott put his side on the scoreboard when he slotted a 48m-attempt after the Stormers transgressed at a ruck (10-3).
Wicus Blaauw also temporarily replaced JD Moller at loose-head prop while Sharks sent on Bismarck du Plessis in place of Deon Carstens. John Smit moved to loosehead.
The Stormers were penalized in the 55th minute for dropping the scrum and Kockott ate into the lead to give the Sharks renewed hope at 10-6.
The Sharks took the lead in the 61st minute when Smit was unstoppable from close range after a quick tap kick by flank Keegan Daniel. Kockott slotted the conversion (13-10).
Watson replaced Louw at flank and Moller returned in place of Blaauw.
The Sharks shocked the Newlands faithful with a stunning attack resulting in a try under the poles for Stefan Terblanche. Kockott extended the lead to 20-10.
Grant made sure the crowd would see a thrilling finish to the game by bashing over powerfully in the 72nd min. His conversion hit the upright and tantalizingly failed to cross the bar.
With 3 minutes left on the clock the Stormers received a penalty close to the poles and opted for a lineout. Bekker won the lineout and the Stormers pack took it up before releasing the backs. Pietersen made ground but lost the ball in the ensuing ruck for Adrian Jacobs to kick out just inside his 22m line.
The Stormes lost another ball on their own throw and therewith their last chance to pull the game out of the fire. The Cape side now have a chance to redeem themselves when they take on the Reds at Newlands on Friday evening.
Vodacom Stormers – Tries: Gcobani Bobo, Peter Grant; Conversion: Peter Grant; Penalty: Peter Grant.
Sharks – Tries: John Smit, Stefan Terblanche; Conversions: Rory Kockott (2); Penalties: Rory Kockott (2).