The Stormers beat the Lions 22-13 after a late rally in a thrilling, if not always good, Super 14 match at Ellis Park on Saturday.
However, their inability to score five tries meant that only one of either the Stormers or the Sharks, who were playing the Chiefs later on Saturday, could still make the semifinals.
There was some brilliant rugby played in the match as well as some moments of mediocrity, but it was entertainment of the highest order.
It was ebb and flow throughout the first half, with the Lions — despite less possession — giving as good as they got in a derby that, as injured Lions lock Anton van Zyl said, produced ”ferocious rugby”.
Like the Stormers, they squandered a number of scoring chances but the first of the four tries the Stormers needed to have a chance of a home semifinal, or to ensure a play-off berth, only came after 31 minutes when captain Jean de Villiers went over after a break on the inside of Jaque Fourie to make it 8-0 after a 17th-minute penalty.
De Villiers opted for scrums and line-outs instead of penalties in an effort to get the five points. The try came after such a scrum when the Lions were down to 14 men with the Stormers then setting up one ruck after another, which eventually became too difficult to keep out.
The scrums were something to behold. Springbok Heinke van der Merwe was outstanding in the way he prevented Brian Mujati getting in the right shoulder needed to set their backs free — even with 13 men when Joe van Niekerk covered in the back line.
The Stormers initially struggled with the line-outs where a lack of understanding between Schalk Britz and his jumpers conceded a number of vital line-outs, and a few throws in the second half also went astray.
Sloppy Stormers work at the breakdown where Lions captain Cobus Grobbelaar was again doing some excellent work saw the Stormers concede 10 balls in this facet in the first half although they still controlled possession.
Earl Rose, who was brilliant on attack, scored for the Lions immediately after the break despite an earlier poor pass from Rayno Benjamin that bounced well. At 8-5 the Stormers launched a concerted series of attacks on the Lions’ try line after another line-out instead of a penalty, but the defence held.
The question was whether the repeated tackling was not taking too much out of the Lions — and the final four minutes showed that it did.
Then the Lions counter-attacked, and again it was a pass from Benjamin that didn’t go to hand and cost his team. A Rose penalty levelled the scores after 54 minutes.
With the possession stakes going to the Stormers 60-40, the Lions had made 74 tackles to 30 after 62 minutes.
After 60 minutes, near-desperate Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus had virtually rearranged his back line with both flyhalves Peter Grant and Tony Brown as well as Dylan des Fountain and Bolla Conradie on the field.
Hooker Schalk Britz had been moved to number eight and loose forward replacement Robbie Diack came on as lock after 67 minutes.
The Lions were looking more dangerous as the Stormers became a little frantic in having to play from their own half. Rose broke cleanly, then immediately did so again but a tackle the first time and good covering from Luke Watson denied the Lions.
The Stormers then moved to the other side of the field, attacked, lost the ball, regained it after a Lions intercept, swung it from side to side and then scored with five minutes remaining via big winger Sireli Naqelevuki.
The Stormers scored virtually from the restart via Diack — and with less than three minutes to go, they were suddenly on the verge of a fourth try. But it was not to be and the Lions deservedly shrunk the points difference after more good work from Rose when Jannie Boshoff dotted down to end this thriller at 22-13 for the Stormers. — Sapa