The Stormers staged a dramatic fightback in the last 15 minutes to edge out the Sharks 17-16 in the final Neo Africa Tri-Series clash at Newlands on Saturday evening.
Stormers replacement lock Adriaan Fondse scored the winning try with only a minute left on the clock, and replacement fullback Lionel Cronje slotted the easy conversion to hand his team victory in the dying moments of the match.
The Stormers were 16-3 behind with just 13 minutes left as the Sharks dominated proceedings up to that point.
Sharks coach John Plumtree’s motivational talk after their lacklustre display against the Lions on Tuesday night worked wonders as his team overpowered the Stormers in the physical collisions.
This was in stark contrast to the feeble display against the Lions, where the Sharks were out-muscled throughout.
Big Sharks loose forwards Willem Alberts and Ryan Kankowski, as well as fellow Springboks Tendai “the Beast” Mtawarira and Bismarck du Plessis were at the forefront of the physical onslaught as the Stormers, missing inspirational captain Schalk Burger and Francois Louw in the loose trio, were unable to gain any ascendancy upfront.
The match was also marred by ill discipline at times, particularly from the Stormers, who conceded three yellow cards. The first came around the 20-minute mark when lock De Kock Steenkamp tackled a Sharks player off the ball, and the second occurred a minute before halftime when centre Paul Bosch impeded Odwa Ndungane from chasing a kick-ahead.
Bryan Habana conceded a yellow card for a high tackle in the last minute of the match.
The Sharks’ first try was a result of some individual brilliance from Lwazi Mvovo in the eighth minute. Chasing a chip kick from Stefan Terblanche along the left touchline, Mvovo outpaced Andries Bekker in the race to the loose ball, hacked it ahead and re-gathered, sidestepping Habana in the process.
Mvovo was two metres short of the tryline, and then produced a classy offload in the tackle to Meyer Bosman, who crashed over.
Sharks flyhalf Patrick Lambie may have missed two penalty attempts at goal, but he showed his class by being the general for his team’s attacks.
Lambie looked to have so much time on the ball, and it resulted in the Sharks’ backline playing with more fluidity than they did against the Lions.
Fullback Odwa Ndungane and wings Mvovo and JP Pietersen were given plenty of possession and they carved holes in the Stormers’ famed defence almost at will.
The Stormers, though, looked disjointed. Young flyhalf Gary van Aswegen struggled to stamp his authority on the match, with the absence of experienced inside centre Jean de Villiers not helping matters.
The Stormers lacked a creative spark, with Van Aswegen unable to set up dangerous runners such as Springboks Juan de Jongh and Gio Aplon outside him.
Habana almost broke the deadlock for the Stormers when he raced away from his own 22-metre area 14 minutes into the second half, but Pietersen eventually brought him down, and the movement was stopped in its tracks.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee tried to inject some life into his team by making a raft of changes after nearly 20 second-half minutes, but it did not make a difference as the Sharks continued to dominate.
The Stormers’ luck, however, changed with about 10 minutes to go when they managed to score following a drive from a five-metre lineout.
After stand-in captain Andries Bekker secured possession, his team camped on the tryline for almost a minute and replacement flyhalf Elgar Watts cantered over in the corner.
This try brought the Stormers right back into the match, with the score at 16-10 in favour of the Sharks.
The Stormers smelled blood, and with the 20 456-strong crowd urging them on, they quickly found themselves again in the Sharks’ 22-metre area.
Another drive from a five-metre lineout saw the Stormers held up over the line but, from the resultant scrum, Fondse secured victory by stretching over.
Cronje converted, and the Stormers’ fans burst into song as their team held on for victory.
Stormers 17 – Tries: Elgar Watts and Adriaan Fondse; Conversions: Lionel Cronje 2; Penalty: Gary van Aswegen.
Sharks 16 – Try: Meyer Bosman; Conversion: Patrick Lambie; Penalties: Lambie 2 and Jacques-Louis Potgieter.