A thrilling six-try contest featured two teams chasing play-off hopes and the result left both feeling dissatisfied.
The Lions have a bye next week with no way to add to their tally of 42 log points which is not sufficient to finish in the top six.
The Stormers are in third place and trail both Australian conference contenders, the Waratahs and Brumbies, by two log points.
Coach Allister Coetzee may well submit to the Springbok resting plan and deactivate Duane Vermeulen, Eben Etzebeth, Frans Malherbe and Schalk Burger for the showdown against the Sharks at King’s Park because the Stormers are unlikely to close the gap and sneak into second place.
Pundits wondered why Vermeulen had not been rested for the round-three trip to Ellis Park, but his leadership proved to be crucial in closing out a nail-biting 22-19 win.
Vermeulen was a surprise withdrawal from yesterday’s match as he was ruled out with a pinched nerve in his neck. Nizaam Carr took his place in the pack, Juan de Jongh took over the captaincy, and Michael Rhodes was called up to the bench.
The Cape franchise’s third SA conference title in five years – they dominated all South African challengers in 2011 and 2012 – confirmed their return to the Super Rugby play-offs after a two-season hiatus.
However, the up side of having secured at least a wildcard play-off match at Newlands is negated by the almost impossible challenge of having to win a possible semi-final and final overseas.
Those in attendance will have left the stadium feeling that, in the narrow context of this match, a draw was a fair reflection of the contest. But the Stormers left eight points on the field in missed goal-kicks – flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis failed with an early penalty and his replacement, Kurt Coleman, hooked a conversion and a penalty.
Catrakilis did convert scrumhalf Nic Groom’s try, while Coleman added the extra points to a score from Carr and winger Dillyn Leyds completed the hosts’ tally of tries.
The Lions’ points came in the form of three tries – from scrumhalf Faf de Klerk, prop Schalk van der Merwe and replacement hooker Malcolm Marx – while Elton Jantjies and Marnitz Boshoff kicked conversions.
The match was four minutes old when Catrakilis pulled one of his easiest attempts of the season.
He split the uprights from the touchline soon after when Groom sneaked over to dot down.
De Klerk then scored in the corner and Jantjies nailed the touchline conversion to level the scores.
Leyds rounded off a classic turnover try with 10 minutes to go in the first half.
De Jongh, meanwhile, spotted an overlap and sent Leyds across for the try.
Coleman’s conversion sailed wide, and so did Jantjies’ five minutes later. The Lions flyhalf was attempting to convert Van der Merwe’s try after the Lions converted another attacking line-out into a try, with De Klerk levelling the scores at 12-12.
Carr then piggy-backed a tackler across the line for a try.
The half-time chat had clearly settled Coleman’s nerves as he followed through on an accurate place-kick for two extra points (19-12).
But a trademark of the Lions’ campaign has been their willingness to fight until the death.
They did not disappoint their supporters.
Steven Kitshoff was sin-binned in the 74th minute and, without the burly loosehead prop, the Stormers’ maul-defence eventually gave way, and Marx dived over from the tail of a driven line-out.
The Newlands faithful jeered in unison as Boshoff stepped up to kick the conversion.
But they failed to shake him.
Stormers (12) 19
Tries: Groom, Leyds, Carr. Conversions: Catrakilis, Coleman
Lions (12) 19
Tries: De Klerk, Van der Merwe, Marx. Conversions: Jantjies, Boshoff – The Sunday Independent
Original source: Lions leave best for last to deny Stormers