Stormers grind out a win over Cheeatahs in Bloemfontein
Cheslin Kolbe's hat-trick and an assured first Super Rugby start for Damian Willemse should have been enough for a comfortable Stormers win.However, their ill-discipline allowed the Cheetahs to salvage a semblance of pride even though were they second best for large parts of the game. In the 20th minute they had players off the field for needless infractions, they conceded 24 points but showed enough composure to see off a brave Cheetahs side.The pocket rocket wing overshadowed a tepid officiating display by Jaco van Heerden to ensure Robbie Fleck's side will have a home quarterfinal as the Africa Conference one winners.
Entrusted with the goal-kicking after SP Marais's injury-enforced 15th minute exit, Kolbe collected 23 points, denying the Cheetahs a sentimental win.For a region that went nine years without a franchise of its own until 2006, the sense of occasion was lost on the fans. Only 13 330 rocked up for what could be the last Super Rugby game in Bloemfontein for the foreseeable future and at times, it felt like it was a Stormers home game.The far side top tier was empty and only the sun baked areas of the cold stadium were decently populated. With the feebleness of their beloved Cheetahs exposed time and again this season, the fans had good reason to stay away.
The quality of the rugby wasn't the type to excite the most ardent arm-chair analysts but the sides were sharp enough to make the most of their one-man advantages.After Niel Marais's 25th minute carding for a professional foul, Kolbe and Seabelo Senatla crossed the whitewash in the 28th and 31st minutes respectively to give the visitors a 16-point buffer. Through Kolbe's second minute touchdown, the Stormers had drawn first blood but a seventh minute Reniel Hugo try and a 18th minute Marais penalty gave the hosts a somewhat undeserved first quarter lead. The Stormers did most of the running and at times their youthful exuberance got to them through their captain Frans Malherbe.
In the lead-up to Marais's yellow, the Stormers had three rolling maul attempts that were legally and illegally thwarted. As for the Stormers, Rynardt Elstadt's brainlessness, saw him concede a 38th minute yellow, from where Elandre Huggett scored from the resulting maul a minute later. The scatterbrained loose-forward was later sent off for retaliation.Unlike the Stormers, the second try wasn't forthcoming and had to make do with a 48th minute Marais penalty.Pieter-Steph du Toit's 55th minute yellow for a high tackle after Kolbe snared his third in the 53rd minute directly led to Clinton Swart's 56th minute try.
After a flowing move, Raymond Rhule's try five minutes later gave the hosts the lead, helping the hosts to overturn a 13-point deficit. The Stormers though found their groove and through Sikhumbuzo Notshe's 73rd minute try and Kolbe's superb touchline conversion after missing two previous attempt snuffed out the Cheetahs threat.Scorers: Cheetahs: (34)Tries: Reniel Hugo, Elandre Huggett, Clinton Swart, Raymond RhuleConversions: Niel Marais (4)Penalties: Marais (2)Stormers: (40)Tries: Cheslin Kolbe (3), Damian Willemse, Seabelo Senatla, Sikhumbuzo Notshe Conversions: SP Marais, Kolbe (4) - TimesLIVE