They missed out on the bonus point that would have given them an edge in the fight for second place going into the final round but the DHL Stormers’ 20-13 win over Leinster at DHL Stadium on Saturday has ensured that it is mission accomplished.
The Stormers do want more of course, and they still have a chance of finishing second and winning the South African Shield as all three contending local sides head overseas in the final round with everything pretty much all square. But even more important is the knowledge that they will now definitely be part of the Champions Cup next year, and this hard-fought win has made it certain.
It was a tightly fought, physical and absorbing game that also had a bit of weirdness to it that was summed up by Leinster’s decision to end the game with their final penalty kick to touch rather than attempt to set up an attacking lineout that might have given them a chance to force a draw. That was effectively because all Leinster needed from the game to ensure top spot for them was to get two log points, and the Stormers’ failure to get a try scoring bonus in conjunction with their bonus point for losing by seven or less was equivalent to two points.
For it means that Leinster go into their final game against Munster in three weeks from now with an advantage of six points on the three teams - Munster, Stormers and Sharks - currently locked together in second place. That’s not enough for them to get caught, so their decision not to let the Stormers play on and possibly grab that elusive fourth try was understandable.
The game got off to a rollicking start with the Stormers appearing to score through Ruhan Nel from the kick-off, with a cross field sweep on the counter-attack putting the centre in at the corner. However, it was referred to the TMO for possible crossing and the ruling went against the Stormers.
Perhaps the ease with which they crossed the line off that first move duped the Stormers into thinking it might be easy, for they were sloppy for the rest of the half. They again struggled to get their lineout going and while they had plenty of attacking opportunities, they tended to knock on or leave the ball behind.
Manie Libbok opened the scoring for the Stormers after a quarter of an hour, but the visitors struck back with two penalties in quick succession from their flyhalf Ciaran Frawley to take Leinster into a 6-3 lead that they held until halftime.
It was tight and the Stormers’ nerves would have been jangling, but one area where they did have a big advantage, just like the Sharks the previous week, was in the scrums. And given the way they appeared to be starting to get on top of the physical battle and opening the Leinster defence up towards the end of the half, there was definite hope.
That hope was translated into much more than that in the early minutes of the second half. The pressure they exerted saw Leinster lose their hooker to a yellow card, and it was while they were down to 14 men that Leinster conceded their first try as Warrick Gelant went over in the right corner as the Stormers stretched play after driving up in front of the posts.
The Stormers were suddenly alive and opening up Leinster, and they were over the line twice more before eventually Seabelo Senatla went over for the second try to stretch the Stormers’ lead from two points to seven. Both conversions attempts were from wide and Libbok missed both of them, which kept Leinster interested.
Sure enough, in one of their rare incursions into the Stormers’ half in that period, they drove over for a try dotted down by prop Ed Byrne. Harry Byrne’s conversion brought the scores level at 13-all.
But the Stormers were the team in the second half that was exerting the most pressure and after a period camping on the Leinster line and coming close on a few occasions, eventually a penalty try was awarded. Of course that is an automatic seven points, and that was the way it stayed until the end.?The Stormers did come close on a few occasions to get the fourth try that would have put them into sole ownership of second place heading to the final round, which will be played on the weekend of 21/22 May, but the Leinster defence was solid. And this was also one of the more error-ridden Stormers performances.
They were full value for their win and any win over Leinster is something to be pleased about and can never be taken for granted, but what this game did show, as the Sharks’ narrow win in Durban did the week before, is that the full strength Leinster team is going to be a handful for any South African team that bumps into them during the knock-out rounds. It will definitely be in Dublin too if it happens so there's work to do for the local challenge.
DHL STORMERS 20 - Tries: Warrick Gelant and Seabelo Senatla; Penalty try; Penalty: Manie Libbok.
LEINSTER 13 - Try: Ed Byrne; Conversion: Harry Byrne; Penalties: Ciaran Frawley 2.