Kolisi leads rusty Stormers to victory over Lions

Johannesburg (AFP) –


Rugby World Cup-winning captain Siya Kolisi led the Stormers to a 23-17 South African Super Rugby Unlocked win over the Lions on Saturday in their first competitive match since March.

Earlier, the Pumas upset the Griquas 27-21 in a game that kicked off in 37 degrees Celsius (98 Fahrenheit) heat between teams considered the weakest among the seven contenders.

A much improved second half performance behind closed doors brought the Cape Town-based Stormers success at their Newlands stadium as they scored 17 unanswered points before surviving a late Lions rally.

It was the Stormers first match since rugby in South Africa was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They lie third in the standings with a match in hand, five points behind frontrunners the Cheetahs, who have won twice at home.

Kolisi, who skippered the Springboks to victory over England in the World Cup final in Japan last November, admitted his star-stacked side need to improve.

"There were a lot of individual errors from all of us during the first half and we were lucky to be only four points behind at half-time," said the flanker.

"We acknowledged our mistakes during honest half-time exchanges and the team played much better in the second half.

"A victory earns four points, however it is achieved, and we will move on and prepare to face the Pumas.

"There is a lot of room for improvement and I anticipate a much better performance in our second outing."

The Stormers, whose starting team included seven World Cup winners, had a bye last weekend when the seven-round domestic version of Super Rugby kicked off.

Another Springbok World Cup winner, Lions captain and fly-half Elton Jantjies, blamed indiscipline for a second successive loss after falling to the Sharks last week.

- 'Constantly penalised' -

"We were constantly being penalised at the breakdowns, which kept putting us on the back foot and impeded our attempts to play with rhythm.

"What encouraged me, though, was that we performed much better than against the Sharks and this new group of players is beginning to gel.

"At least we have taken bonus points from our first two matches and it will be nice to have home advantage next weekend when the Cheetahs visit Johannesburg."

A well worked try scored by winger Rabz Maxwane helped the Lions to a 10-6 half-time lead before superior scrumming from the Stormers' all-Springbok front row turned the tide.

Centres Rikus Pretorius and Dan du Plessis scored tries and fly-half Damian Willemse converted both and slotted a penalty.

Jantjies converted his try to reduce the gap to six points and a late Lions' rally threatened to snatch victory until a Scarra Ntubeni turnover rescued the Stormers.

"I have never played in hotter conditions," said Pumas skipper and lock Pieter Jansen van Vuren after they surprised hosts Griquas in northern Cape city Kimberley.

The Pumas fielded a team showing 10 changes from the one that conceded eight tries when well beaten at the Cheetahs last weekend.

But after an 830-kilometre (515-mile) bus journey from their Mbombela base in sweltering conditions, the Pumas deservedly won the showdown between the traditional minnows.

Fly-half Eddie Fouche starred for the Pumas, with his contributions including 12 points from three conversions and two penalties.