The DHL Stormers showed pleny of fight, but could not avoid a 24-17 defeat against the Cell C Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
In a hard-fought match that could have gone either way, the DHL Stormers were outscored by three tries to two, which proved decisive in the end.
The home side threw absolutely everything at the DHL Stormers in the opening exhcnages, which were extremely physical.
The DHL Stormers were well organised on defence and managed to absorb plenty of pressure without giving away any points.
Cell C Sharks flyhalf Rob du Preez opened the scoring with his second attempt on goal, but those were to be the only points of the first half for the hosts.
The DHL Stormers started to assert themselves in the set-pieces and won some field position, which saw them come within inches of scoring.
The try eventually came on the stroke of half-time from a counter-attack as the ball was sent to centre Damian de Allende who broke out of his own 22 before finding captain Siya Kolisi on his outside. Kolisi showed impressive pace down the left wing before throwing a miracle pass on the inside to Raymond Rhule, who scored under the poles.
The easy conversion from Damian Willemse saw the DHL Stormers take a crucial 7-3 advantage into the half-time break after a bruising first 40 minutes.
The Cell C Sharks struck first in the second half with a try from outside centre Lukhanyo Am, which saw them take the lead back at 10-7, but they did not have it for long as the DHL Stormers responded with 10 unanswered points.
Willemse was at the centre of it all once again as first he slotted an easy penalty before chasing down a kick ahead from Craig Barry and popped up again to spin the ball wide, where his brother Ramone Samuels was waiting to score in the corner.
The touchline conversion from Willemse put the DHL Stormers seven points up, but they were reduced to 14 men soon afterwards when scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage was adjudged to have deliberately knocked the ball on and was shown a yellow card.
The teams were back on level terms at 17-17 when Cell C Sharks flank Jean-Luc du Preez scored under the poles to leave everything to play for in the final 15 minutes.
The home side scored again just seven minutes from the end through tighthead prop Thomas du Toit, which proved to be the decisive blow which sealed the DHL Stormers’ fate.
For DHL Stormers:
Tries: Rhule, Samuels
Cons: Willemse 2
For Cell C Sharks:
Tries: Am, JL du Preez, Du Toit
Cons: R du Preez 3
Pen: R du Preez
DHL Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Craig Barry, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian De Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Kobus van Dyk, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Paul de Wet, 22 SP Marais, 23 JJ Engelbrecht.
Cell C Sharks: 15 Curwin Bosch, 14 Sbu Nkosi, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 André Esterhuizen, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Rob du Preez, 9 Cameron Wright, 8 Dan du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Ruan Botha (captain), 3 Thomas du Toit, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Juan Schoeman.
Replacements: 16 Akker van der Merwe, 17 Mzamo Majola, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Tyler Paul, 20 Jacques Vermeulen, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Marius Louw, 23 Lwazi Mvovo.