JOHANNESBURG: The Stormers went to the top of the Super Rugby championship table when they beat the Lions 24-19 at Coca-Cola Park on Saturday.
It was the fourth win in as many matches for the Cape Town-based team, who are the only unbeaten side in the competition, but they were made to struggle by the injury-ravaged but spirited Lions.
The Stormers went ahead after 72 seconds when hooker Tiaan Liebenberg scored a try after a multi-phase movement that started when the visitors stole the ball from the kick-off.
It seemed likely to be an easy night for the 2011 semi-finalists when Springbok wing Bryan Habana scored his 50th try in the competition after 14 minutes.
They stretched the lead to 18-0 after 20 minutes with two penalties by full-back Joe Pietersen -- but the Lions dominated the rest of the match.
"We played rugby for 30 minutes, then for 50 minutes the Lions played better than us," admitted Stormers captain and centre Jean de Villiers.
Despite struggling to win set-piece ball, the Lions competed ferociously in broken play, kept the ball in hand and forced the Stormers to make more than 100 tackles.
A try by scrum-half Tian Meyer reduced the deficit to 11 points at half-time and the Lions got within two points with three penalty goals by fly-half Butch James after the break.
After 48 minutes without scoring, the Stormers got some breathing space when Pietersen landed a penalty 12 minutes from time and he ensured a victory for the visitors with a long-range goal a minute from the end, before Lions wing Andries Coetzee dropped a goal after the final hooter to give his side a bonus point.
The Lions had been decimated by injuries in the early weeks of the season and were forced into fielding an inexperienced front row and a second-string half-back pairing.
Habana's try came when the Lions lost a scrum on their own put-in. But the young Lions showed plenty of commitment and determination as they fought their way back into the match.
De Villiers said the Stormers would have to improve when they play Northern Bulls, who are just one point behind, in Cape Town next Saturday.
"There is a lot of work to be done before next week," he said.
STORMERS 24 (Bryan Habana, Tiaan Liebenberg tries Joe Pietersen con 4 pens) bt LIONS 19 (Tian Meyer try Butch James con 3 pens Andries Coetzee drop goal) at Ellis Park. Referee: Glen Jackson.