The match never reached any great heights as both teams battled to get their attacking game going as a number of handling errors and poor set-piece execution stifled any positive intent on a perfect day for rugby in warm, sunny conditions.
But a moment of brilliance from Stormers No 8 Notshe was the highlight in front of 22 000 spectators when he broke clear of the Cheetahs defence with 15 minutes to go, with the game delicately poised at 24-21 in favour of the home side.
After a turnover was engineered by Stormers hooker Scarra Ntubeni inside their 22, Notshe burst forward and rifled a superb kick downfield. Right wing Kobus van Wyk put in a thrilling chase and beat the cover defence – among them Cheetahs flyer Sergeal Petersen – to score a fantastic touchdown.
Flyhalf Jean-Luc slotted the conversion to put Robbie Fleck’s team 31-21 ahead, and despite a series of late Cheetahs lineouts and mauls inside the Stormers 22, the Cape outfit held on for a much-needed victory to end a three-match winless streak.
But Fleck wouldn’t have been happy about the performance as his team again lacked creativity with ball-in-hand, while their forwards lost some crucial lineouts and conceded a few scrum penalties, which were problem areas in last week’s defeat to the Bulls at Loftus.
Loose forwards Notshe and Man-of-the-Match Siya Kolisi were two of the few shining lights for the Stormers in a hard-fought battle.
Du Plessis and Cheetahs No 10 Fred Zeilinga traded three penalties each in the first half-an-hour, but then debutant centre Daniel du Plessis showed his class when he stepped inside Petersen and scored with two defenders on him four minutes before the break.
The Stormers struck it lucky five minutes into the second half when, with the Cheetahs on attack inside their 22, a long floated pass was intercepted by left wing Leolin Zas, who ran about 80 metres to put his team in front by 21-9.
Franco Smith’s side never gave up, though, and the hard work by the forwards in particular was rewarded when No 8 Paul Schoeman went over in the left-hand corner.
The Stormers were still 24-14 ahead, but then the men from Bloemfontein struck a massive blow when Petersen outsprinted the cover defence following an exceptional grubber from Raymond Rhule to score and bring his team to within three points of levelling the scores.
But a couple of outstanding lineout steals in the last 10 minutes by lock Eben Etzebeth – who got into a scuffle with Springbok teammate Lood de Jager in the first half – and Pieter-Steph du Toit ensured that the Stormers maintained their unbeaten record against the Cheetahs at Newlands.
The win is a major relief for the Stormers and coach Fleck going into the June Test window, as they regained the lead in Africa Conference 1 and kept up the pressure on the Bulls, who face the Lions later on Saturday.
Fleck, though, will hope that fullback Cheslin Kolbe is not too seriously hurt after he went off on a stretcher after making contact with a Cheetahs player following a charged-down kick. Kolbe did reappear on the Stormers bench during the second half and watched the game from the sidelines.
“Cheslin got knocked out cold. He will be assessed again, but it looked pretty bad. He’s okay now,” Fleck said afterwards.
Flank Nizaam Carr also left the field with an ankle injury late in the first half, and the coach said that he will be assessed and could not say how serious it was immediately after the game.
Stormers – Tries: Daniel du Plessis, Leolin Zas, Kobus van Wyk. Conversions: Jean-Luc du Plessis (2). Penalties: Jean-Luc du Plessis (4).
Cheetahs – Tries: Paul Schoeman, Sergeal Petersen. Conversion: Fred Zeilinga (1). Penalties: Zeilinga (3), Niel Marais (1).
Original source: Kolbe hurt as Stormers grind it out