The beleaguered Vodacom Stormers gave their supporters something to cheer about on Saturday when they beat the Force 25-24 in their last Vodacom Super 14 game at Newlands.
The Stormers led 15-7 in this nail-biting clash.
The home side – ravaged by injuries to key players – showed a lot of guts to beat a team that are better positioned than them on the points’ table. Their defence was solid, they competed vigorously at ruck time and on the attack they showed a lot more initiative than previously.
Joe Pietersen was a revelation at fullback and was rewarded with two tries and the Man of the Match award. The little No 15 epitomized the spirit of the Stormers, who didn’t take long to make their intentions known.
From a ruck close to the Force’s 22 scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenhage passed to his left and outside centre Dylan des Fountain put a flying Joe Pietersen in possession.
The little No 15 wrong-footed one defender before he kicked the ball ahead into open space. He then turned on the gas to beat Force fullback Drew Mitchell to the ball and score the opening try after only 2 min of play.
Flyhalf Willem de Waal’s attempted conversion hit the upright, much to the disappointment of the home crowd. Lock Hilton Lobberts then shocked the Force when he dived over majestically in the 7th min. after wing Sireli Naqelevuki took a quick free-kick and the Stormers conjured up a dazzling movement that was finished by Lobberts. The assistant referee however pointed out a Stormers transgression and the try was not allowed.
The Stormers were not to be denied in the 17th though, when AJ Venter won a lineout for Duvenhage to pass to De Waal, who with the greatest of ease slipped through between the Force centres and finished close to the poles. He converted to make the score 12-0.
From then on the Waratahs started to control the possession and enjoyed a bit of territorial advantage. From a ruck close to the Stormers try-line outside centre James O’Connor turned a bad ball into a good one by beating four defenders with quicksilver footwork to score his side’s first try in the 28th min. Flyhalf Matt Giteau converted (12-7).
Lock AJ Venter left the field injured after the conversion for Martin Muller to enter the fray. The veteran returned after some treatment though.
The Stormers suffered a setback when hooker Tiaan Liebenberg, who was a real livewire up until that stage, received a yellow card for – according to the referee – throwing a punch at Force left wing Haig Sare.
It was the Stormers though who extended their lead when De Waal struck the ball beautifully from the halfway line to convert a penalty into three points in the 37th (15-7).
The Stormers were dealt a cruel blow when they bamboozled the Force with some exquisite running and passing and No 8 and captain Luke Watson made the final pass to Dylan des Fountain, who strolled over the try-line. But to the dismay and horror of the player, his team-mates, the coaching staff and the crowd he dropped the ball in the process of touching down.
The teams went into the halftime break with the Stormers leading 15-7.
The Stormers thought they had stretched their lead in the 42nd min. when inside centre Peter Grant charged down a clearance kick of Giteau and recollected the ball to stroll over. Referee Marius Jonker, however, spotted an infringement at the preceding loose maul and called play back.
Gitea ate into the lead with a successful penalty after Lobberts was penalized for a high tackle in the 46th min. De Waal had a chance to stretch the lead again in the 49th after Jonker penalized the Force for playing the ball on the ground. He missed though.
Lobberts left the field in the 54th min. and Slabbert replaced him. Three minutes later Wicus Blaauw took over from JD Moller at loosehead prop.
Giteau scored a stunning long-range try after fullback Drew Mitchell attacked from within his own half, kicked ahead, gathered the ball again and put outside centre Ryan Cross away. He sent Giteau over under the poles and the flyhalf converted himself to put his team in the lead for the first time in the 62nd min (17-15).
The Stormers were not prepared to disappoint their supporters in their last home game of the season and De Waal put them back into the lead with a penalty in the 66th min. after the Force was penalized for a high tackle. Schalk Brits, normally a hooker, joined the fray in place of flank Pieter Louw. He packed down at No 8, with Watson shifting to the side of the scrum.
A determined Force came with another onslaught though and flanker David Pocock seemed to have crossed the line at the corner flag. The Television Match Official ruled he touched the touchline though and a lineout was awarded to the Stormers.
Morgan Newman replaced De Waal in the 70th min. and Peter Grant moved to flyhalf. The Stormers immediately jumped into action when Pietersen flummoxed the defence and passed beautifully to wing Gcobani Bobo. The latter cut inside and beat the defenders but lost his footing with 5m to go.
He found Pietersen on his inside though and the blonde fullback had no problem crossing the line. Peter Grant converted to make the score 25-17. The Force hit back via a try by the industrious Giteau, who converted to make sure the match would end as a cliffhanger.
There was drama in the dying minutes, with Pietersen failing with two drop goal attempts and the Force attacking desperately. Lady Luck this time was kind to the home side, who deserved to be victorious on the day.
Vodacom Stormers – Tries: Joe Pietersen (2), Willem de Waal; Conversions: De Waal (1), Peter Grant (1); Penalty: De Waal.
Force – Tries: James O’Connor, Matt Giteau (2); Conversions: Matt Giteau (3); Penalty: Giteau .