The Investec Stormers battled to a hard-fought 15-13 victory over the Reds at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday.
The home team led 10-6 at halftime, but would not be too satisfied with the overall performance. They did not impose themselves on the visitors and made far too many unforced errors to tackle the marauding Crusaders with any confidence next week.
Added to that, the Stormers were decimated by injuries and finished the game with a number of players out of position.
They, however, showed tremendous fighting spirit and grit at the end when the Reds were pulling out all stops on the attack. That period of the game was characterized by some big tackles from the home side – a sign of how determined the Stormers were to get back on the winning track after their poor performances overseas.
It was a horrific start to the game for Stormers when fullback Werner Greeff was carried off the field on a stretcher after being run over by Reds fullback Chris Latham. The game had to be stopped for several minutes while Greeff received medical attention on the field before he was taken off.
Gaffie du Toit took over at fullback.
Flyhalf Chris Rossouw failed with penalty in the 6th minute, but 4 minutes later he made sure about his second attempt to give the home side a 3-0 lead.
There was a bit of comic relief in the 18th minute when hooker Pieter Dixon intercepted a pass close to his own try-line. He was chased all the way to the opposing try-line by Reds lock Nathan Sharpe and won an entertaining sprint, only to be called back by referee Paul Honiss who had ruled offside play by the Stormers.
Reds flyhalf Julian Huxley converted to points to make the score level at 3-3.
The Stormers hit back with a ferocious attack instigated by prop Eddie Andrews that took them across the field and back. After big lock Quinton Davids made the final dent in the Reds defence left wing Jean de Villiers finished off in the right-hand corner.
Rossouw beautifully converted to ensure his side a 10-3 lead in the 23rd minute.
The Reds narrowed the gap when Huxley succeeded with a penalty in the 28th minute (10-6) after the Stormers were penalized for using hands in a ruck.
The Stormers suffered another injury setback in the 35th minute when Davids left the field. Rob Linde replaced him in the second row. A minute later Reds flyhalf Huxley left for the blood bin and Brock James had a bite of the action.
The Reds dominated the last 10 minutes of the game and No 8 John Roe and lock Hugh McMeniman came close to scoring tries, but desperate defence kept them out. The Stormers held on to go into the halftime break with their lead intact.
The Stormers started the second half the stronger team and after camping out on the Reds try-line the defence finally crumbled after 10 minutes when flanker Luke Watson bulldozed his way over the line. Rossouw fluffed the conversion, but the situation looked much healthier for the home crowd with the score at 15-6.
The Stormers then suffered another setback when flank Schalk Burger had to leave the field injured. Lukas van Biljon, normally a hooker, made his debut at flank because earlier on loose-forward replacement David Hendricks took the place of Adri Badenhorst.
Watson had to move to No 8 to accommodate Hendriks at the side of the scrum. Tonderai Chavhanga also got a run when he replaced Marius Joubert, with De Villiers shifting to outside centre.
The situation became bleak for the Stormers when De Villiers was forced off injured with what looked like a knee injury. Neil de Kock replaced him, going to the wing, with Gaffie du Toit at outside centre and Breyton Paulse at fullback in a rather strange looking Stormers backline.
The Reds had the last laugh when replacement hooker Sean Hardman scored in the 78th minute. Huxley converted to set the table for a nail-biting finish with only two points separating the sides, but the Stormers held on to their slender lead to keep their slight hopes of a semifinal berth alive.
Investec Stormers – Tries: Jean de Villiers, Luke Watson; Conversion: Chris Rossouw; Penalty: Chris Rossouw.
Reds – Try: Sean Hardman; Conversion: Julian Huxley; Penalties: Julian Huxley (2).