The DHL Stormers claimed an unprecedented third South African Vodacom Super Rugby Conference title with a game to spare, despite facing up to the Lions without regular captain Duane Vermeulen.
The 2011 and 2012 – and now 2015 – SA Conference winners scrapped to a 19-19 draw against the Lions in front of a crowd of 33,717 at DHL Newlands on Saturday night.
A visibly pleased DHL Stormers coach Allister Coetzee told the www.iamastormer.com website: “It was our first objective (the SA Conference title), as that’s your way into the play-offs, and to do it with a game in hand is certainly very pleasing.
“We had a tough week, there were some tough challenges; losing Duane at the 11th hour, losing Demetri Catrakilis early in the match and also having had Scarra Ntubeni ruled out with his calf-muscle injury – so, again, it shows the character of this team.
“We all know that the Lions are a good team, a form team, and they came with everything at us. The way we defended, especially at the end… hats off to the team, a quality team that wasn’t given much of a chance to win the SA Conference ahead of the season.”
The DHL Stormers will travel to Durban next weekend to face the Sharks in their final league match of 2015, knowing that there is still an outside chance of a potential home semifinal.
Coetzee admitted, however: “Second place is a bit of a tough one now, but we’ve got plans and I’ve got an opportunity to rest some guys and, in the process, keep building the capacity of our squad.
“We still want to select our best possible side against the Sharks, we always play to win and want to give our best, but it might be an opportunity to rest a few players who have been over-reaching of late.”
Powerhouse No.8 Duane Vermeulen – the DHL Stormers’ inspirational skipper in 2015 – was withdrawn ahead of tonight’s match with a severe neck spasm, with Nizaam Carr (one of his team’s three try-scorers) starting in the No.8 position and centre Juan de Jongh taking over the captaincy.
DHL Stormers team doctor, Jason Suter, spoke to the media afterwards about Vermeulen’s injury.
“Duane suffered a severe spasm in his neck after Friday’s captain’s run. We sent him for an MRI and it showed a bulging disc at a C5 level which is causing the (intense) spasm,” explained Dr Suter.
“Based on that he was removed from today’s match. In terms of his prognosis, and his management, it’s too early to say at the moment.
“At this stage he has no neurological symptoms, so he has no fall-out that requires urgent intervention or surgery, but the next 24 hours will tell us how we will manage him and how long the expected time for recovery is.
“He will see a neurosurgeon on Monday. We’ve sent on his scans already (to the neurosurgeon) to start looking at what the potential management is going to be.
“It’s too early to say more, and I certainly don’t want to speculate at this stage, but he’s unlikely to feature against the Sharks next week with us obviously aiming for the play-offs (for a possible return).”
Meanwhile, flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis suffered minor concussion against the Lions, which saw him leave the field in the 16th minute.
A full DHL Stormers injury report, as per usual, will be released on Monday afternoon.