The Lions withstood a second-half siege from the Stormers as they held on for a deserved 16-29 bonus-point victory at Newlands in Cape Town.
This was a true derby, dominated by big hits in the contact and a forward Battle Royale between South Africa’s two best teams.
The Lions were Super Rugby finalists last season but it’s the team from the Western Cape that has been the standout side for the Republic.
The Stormers were coming off one of their best wins after dispatching the Chiefs at Newlands last weekend, in what was one of the best games in years, and were unbeaten this season.
The Lions outscored their hosts four tries to one and dominated the set pieces and broken play to earn a hard-fought 13-point win.
They sit top of the South African Group standings and four points clear of the Sharks in the Africa 2 Conference.
The game started at a frantic pace. Malcolm Marx crossed in the fourth minute after a powerful lineout drive but, the home team hit back soon after.
It was that man, Dillyn Leyds who crossed to level the scores. The winger received the ball from Robert du Preez after the flyhalf broke Madosh Tambwe’s weak tackle.
The winger chipped and regathered his kick, beat Lionel Mapoe and ran away to score in the corner. Du Preez’s conversion made it 7-5.
But three minutes later, the Lions roared back when Harold Vorster – on for the injured Rohan Janse van Rensburg – scored to give the visitors the lead.
The centre ran a great line, took a long pass from Ross Cronje’s and ghosted through Eben Etzebeth and Du Preez. Elton Jantjies did not miss his second conversion attempt; 12-5.
If the Stormers thought they would have the game all their own way, they were now aware that the Johan Ackermann’s team meant business.
The Stormers were their own worst enemies, losing the ball when in good attacking position and being dominated at the breakdown by Jaco Kriel, Ruan Ackermann and Franco Mostert, who were immense.
Kriel was, harshly, sent to the sin-bin for a head-high challenge on Du Preez.
The flyhalf and SP Marais both kicked penalties either side of Kriel’s yellow card to give the Stormers a slim 13-12 lead near the half-hour mark.
Jantjies’s 35th-minute penalty put the visitors back in front. Kriel’s return changed the game; the flanker being credited with the try after TMO Shaun Veldsman told referee Jaco Peyper to award the five-pointer.
Johan Ackermann’s team had erased a deficit and taken control of the game after Jantjies’ conversion. The Lions led by nine at the interval.
Whatever Ackermann’s counterpart Robbie Fleck said to his team, it worked, as the Stormers came out firing in the second half.
The first 13 and a half minutes belonged to the hosts, who camped inside the Lions’ 22 for the entire time since the restart.
But, through sheer grit and determination, the visitors soaked up all that the Stormers could throw at them and broke their spirit, as well as their composure with some stern defending.
Siya Kolisi was told to speak to his charges for off-the-ball holding in the first half, now, the referee told him to keep his cool after he scuffled with Sylvian Mahuza after he knocked a ball forward.
The pressure was getting to Fleck’s team and their frustrations manifested themselves in silly mistakes. The Lions, on the other hand, were composed throughout.
Kolisi should have taken the points on three occasions early in the half but did not and his team was playing catch up.
With 10 minutes to play, Marais kicked another long-range penalty to reduce the gap to 16-22.
But the Lions would not be denied. The fought and battled to stay ahead and with eight minutes to play, Mahuza collected Kriel’s pass and ran away to score and drive the final nail into the Stormers’ coffin.
Final score: Stormers 16 (13) Lions 29 (22)
Tries – Leyds
Pen – Du Preez (2)
Con – Du Preez
Tries – Marx, Vorster, Kriel, Mahuza
Pen – Jantjies
Con – Jantjies (3)
Cards – Kriel (Yellow, 26th minute)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Ref 1: AJ Jacobs
Assistant Ref 2: Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
15 Sarel Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Daniel du Plessis, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Johan du Toit, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Dan Kriel.
Lions 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Rohan Janse van Rensburg, 11 Courtnall Skosan, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (captain), 7 Ruan Ackermann, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Ruan Dreyer, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Jacques van Rooyen.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Johannes Jonker, 19 Lourens Erasmus, 20 Albertus Smith, 21 Francois de Klerk, 22 Harold Vorster, 23 Sylvian Mahuza.