The Stormers' hopes of securing a home Super 14 semi-final hit a major hurdle in Durban on Saturday when they lost 20-14.
The Stormers' hopes of securing a home Super 14 semi-final hit a major hurdle in Durban on Saturday when they lost 20-14 to the Sharks.
Was the occasion too much for the side from Cape Town? Beaten at the break-down, the Stormers handling, which has been sublime all year, let them down when the heat was on.
A losing bonus point – snatched in the dying moments of the game – will be all the Stormers will take home. Now just one point clear of the Waratahs in the Super 14 standings and with a showdown with the Bulls on the menu next weekend, the pressure is well and truly on Schalk Burger's team.
Unable to match the Sharks' intensity in a frenetic start to the game, the Stormers were hardly able to get into opposition territory in the opening 40 minutes.
The free-running hosts dominated in terms of both territory and possession in the first half thanks to some ferocious rucking and a willingness to keep ball in hand. When the Stormers did manage to get their hands on the ball, poor handling and some loose passes inevitably gave it away again.
The second half was a far more evenly contested affair but the Stormers never looked like stealing the win from a Sharks side playing without pressure of full of enthusiasm.
Odwa Ndungane's try gave the Sharks the lead in the seventh minute but Ruan Pienaar's fantastic conversion from the touchline was the only other time the scorers were troubled for more than half-an-hour.
Ndungane's five-pointer was a text-book example of moving the ball at pace and the Sharks could easily have been rewarded with two more tries, but both Sharks wings were unable to finish with the line begging.
It took a horrible error on the stroke of half-time from Sireli Naqelevuki to finally hand the hosts their second try. The Fijian wing made a hash of collecting Pienaar's chip ahead, fumbling the ball in the in-goal area only to see the opposition fly-half dive onto it.
Pienaar's extras gave the Durbanites a 14-0 lead at the break and the truth be told, the Stormers were probably relieved to hear the hooter.
It took just five minutes after the restart for the Stormers to open their account as Peter Grant slalomed his way through the Sharks defence to finish under the sticks.
The Stormers were put firmly behind the eight ball with twelve minutes left on the clock as Pienaar added three points from the kicking tee to open the gap to ten points.
Facing the prospect of losing without a bonus point, the Stormers needed to add another gear to their attack.
When Grant missed an absolute sitter in the 74th minute, the Stormers had no choice but to open up, but only managed to hand the ball back to the Sharks.
When Pienaar added a late penalty, the losing bonus point looked lost, but a last-minute rally and some powerful driving from the Stormers pack set up Francois Louw, who barged over from short range.
Grant's conversion saved the bonus point, but the Stormers will head back to the Mother City with their confidence a little dented.
Man of the match: Hats off to the Sharks, who produced one of the best games of their season. “The Beast” and the loose forwards carried the ball with real fire but the difference we feel came from the half-backs, where Rory Kockott and Ruan Pienaar were in top form. At fly-half, Pienaar added a dimension to the Sharks attack that has far-too-often been missing this season.
For the Sharks:
Tries: Ndungane, Pienaar
Cons: Pienaar 2
Pens: Pienaar 2
For the Stormers:
Tries: Grant, Louw
Cons: Grant 2
Sharks: 15 Patrick Lambie, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Riaan Swanepoel, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Jean Deysel, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Patric Cilliers, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Jacques Botes, 21 Andy Goode, 22 Andries Strauss.
Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Sireli Naqelevuki, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Juan de Jongh, 11 Tim Whitehead, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger (c), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 JD Moller.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Eusebio Guinazu, 18 Anton van Zyl, 19 Pieter Louw, 20 Ricky Januarie, 21 Willem de Waal, 22 Joe Pietersen.
Venue: Absa Stadium, Durban
Referee: Stuart Dickinson