Schalk Burger, Steven Kitshoff and Demetri Catrakilis were the heroes as the DHL Stormers overcame a niggly Brumbies side 25-24 in their Vodacom SuperRugby match at Newlands on Saturday night.
The indefatigable Burger spent most of the evening cleaning up after his team-mates had spilt the ball and he scored the Stormers’ only try to finally put them ahead on the hour mark.
Loosehead prop Kitshoff anchored a Stormers scrum that provided an invaluable platform in their efforts to shake off a Brumbies side that did everything they could to spoil and disrupt, playing precious little rugby themselves. Kitshoff was also huge in defence and when carrying the ball, and was often used at the front of the lineout as well.
Ultimately it was the boot of Catrakilis that kept the scoreboard moving for the Stormers, the flyhalf kicking five penalties, a conversion and a drop goal as he missed just one shot at goal.
The Brumbies had a golden chance to snatch victory at the death after fullback Jesse Mogg had raced out of his own half in an acre of space, forcing the Stormers to concede a five-metre lineout. If that defensive breakdown wasn’t bad enough, flank David Pocock was then able to stroll over through a gaping hole for a try from the lineout.
The conversion was from in front of the posts, but flyhalf Christian Lealiifano somehow managed to hit the upright, and what should have been a one-point victory for the Brumbies remained a single-point win for the Stormers.
It was a gutsy fightback from the Stormers, who at one stage trailed 3-16, and they had to overcome a horrid first half in which they looked at sixes and sevens with a ridiculously high unforced error-rate.
It started from the kickoff when the Stormers failed to exit due to poor communication and were then penalised at the scrum, Lealiifano putting the Brumbies 3-0 up.
Three minutes later, eighthman Duane Vermuelen was charging up on attack off a commanding Stormers scrum and the Brumbies went off their feet at the ruck, allowing Catrakilis to level the scores with his first penalty.
Damian de Allende’s troubles typified the Stormers’ first-half battle and the centre seemed to be bewitched as he knocked on twice in the opening minutes, gave away a penalty to Lealiifano and then scuffed a grubber attempt straight into the hands of Joe Tomane, allowing the Brumbies wing to race away for the opening try in the 14th minute.
It looked like being a magical evening in Cape Town for the Brumbies when Jesse Mogg kicked a 52-metre penalty to put them 16-3 ahead on the half-hour.
But the Stormers have a mighty scrum and the penalties they earned there gave them a foothold back in the match, starting in the 38th minute when Catrakilis made it 6-16.
As the Stormers forwards took control, the Brumbies were not willing to play along and there were constant flare-ups as their off-the-ball niggle and spoiling tactics went unpunished by weak referee Stuart Berry. Three more Catrakilis penalties either side of halftime pulled the Stormers back to within a single point (15-16) and then eventually the visitors were given a yellow card when replacement lock Jordan Smiler tried to bury Burger at a ruck by upending him.
Six minutes later, Burger, who had an awful brush with the cemetery last year, forced his way over for the Stormers’ only try, to cap another mighty performance on his amazing comeback from serious illness.
The restart meant that, for the first time in ages, the Brumbies were able to attack after being camped in their own half for most of the second half and Lealiifano slotted a penalty after Catrakilis was adjudged to have his hands in a ruck.
Catrakilis made up straight away with a brilliant 40m drop goal, but Mogg’s breakaway and Pocock’s try should have put the Brumbies in front with 10 minutes left were it not for Lealiifano’s inexplicable miss.
The victory, achieved in the most trying circumstances, means the Stormers are back in first position in the South African Conference, although the Bulls have the same number of points and a game in hand.
Stormers – Try: Schalk Burger. Conversion: Demetri Catrakilis. Penalties: Catrakilis (5). Drop goal: Catrakilis.
Brumbies – Tries: Joe Tomane, David Pocock. Conversion: Christian Lealiifano. Penalties: Lealiifano (3), Jesse Mogg.