BLOEMFONTEIN – The Stormers claimed top spot in the South African Super Rugby conference with a dour 13-6 win over the Cheetahs on Saturday.
The victory moved the Stormers to 62 points, eight ahead of the Bulls and Sharks, with one round of league matches to play.
The Cape Town-based team missed the chance to go top of the overall standings, however, as they failed to pick up a bonus-point for scoring four tries and are still one point behind leaders the Waikato Chiefs.
The match was played in cold and very wet conditions with both teams content to play a tactical kicking game in an effort to gain territory.
The safety first approach meant scoring opportunities were limited and it took 17 minutes before Stormers fly-half Peter Grant kicked a penalty for the first points of the contest.
The Cheetahs finally drew level with two minutes left in the half thanks to a close-range penalty from pivot Riaan Smit, which saw the teams go in at the break deadlocked at 3-3.
The Stormers dominated territory and possession at the start of the second half and their cause was given a boost when Cheetahs fullback Willie le Roux was yellow-carded, five minutes after the restart, for a professional foul.
Grant kicked the visitors ahead with his second successful penalty but the Cheetahs, despite being a man down, levelled again when Smit kicked a long-range penalty in the 53rd.
The Stormers injected some life into the match almost immediately from the restart when Grant put in a deft corner kick that was collected by fullback Gio Aplon who went over untouched for a converted try.
The Cheetahs were the more adventurous team in the last quarter, but a Stormers’ defence which has conceded just 18 tries this season, the best in the competition, held firm to secure the victory.
“The win was important for us,” said Stormers captain Jean de Villiers.
“The conditions today were terrible. You couldn’t play much rugby and it was almost better not to have the ball. We have one match left and we are happy where we are.”
“We put up a good fight and we were in it right to the end. The match could have gone either way but it is tough to lose,” said Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss.