Aplon scored the game's only try
The Stormers managed to edge the Cheetahs 13-6 in a scrappy Super Rugby encounter in Bloemfontein on Saturday to secure a spot in the play-offs.
The result means the Stormers have retained their title as the South African conference winners.
It never rains in Bloemfontein in July, they say.
The Stormers are used to playing in wet weather, they say.
Don't believe them. It poured in cold Bloemfontein on Saturday and the Stormers hardly ever play in rain, let alone in the icy downpour that descended on them on Saturday.
Afterwards Jean de Villiers, the Stormers captain, said: "You were better off not having the ball."
In fact the Cheetahs may just have done some things better.
For one they scrummed better, twice forcing penalties off the Stormers. They kicked much better. They kicked to get to the ball's destination; the Stormers kicked. Some of their kicking was strange - not into touch from within their 22 and directly out from outside of it. There was one kick, though, that was worth gold.
There was a time in the first half when the Stormers looked to be well on top; for most of the second half the Cheetahs were on top. But the Cheetahs could not produce a golden moment against the best defence in Super Rugby.
Kicking was the Cheetahs' best weapon with midfield charging as their second tactic - when Cheetahs tried to become wildebeest. The Stormers seemed to have little beyond the line-out maul. That worked twice but for the rest the Cheetahs coped well.
At half-time Naka Drotské, the Cheetahs' coach, spoke about the importance of discipline. He was proved right in the second half when the Cheetahs gave away a flurry of penalties near their line, including a yellow card for fullback Willie le Roux. It was while Le Roux was sitting out in the cold that the Stormers struck gold.
The Stormers missed a chance early on. A brilliant kick by Peter Grant down towards the left touchline gave the Stormers a golden opportunity. Gio Aplon chased and Nico Scheepers surfed into touch with the ball, giving the Stormers a five-metre line-out. This was their second line-out of the match. They had mauled their first one more than 20 metres. It was feasible to dream of a try. Instead the throw went over the heads of all the forwards to a Cheetah at the back. Not a Stormers raised a foot above the ground. It must be the worst throw into a line-out this year - at least this year.
But the Stormers were on the attack and punched ahead with direct running - Deon Fourie, Juan de Jongh and Peter Grant. They were on the line but Andries Ferreira lay across the ball, inviting the painful rucking of more rambunctious years but incurring just a penalty. Grant goaled. 3-0 after 16 minutes.
The Cheetahs had their best opportunity just after this when Riaan Smit chipped, the ball did a sharp offbreak and Le Roux raced towards the line. Jebb Sinclair caught him but he gave to Scheepers. Grant got him but the Cheetahs still had the ball and Le Roux flung a long pass out to unmarked lock Izak van der Westhuizen on the left wing but Aplon and Pietersen used the time of the floated pass to get to him and bundle him into touch.
Just before half-time the Cheetahs attacked. Smit missed a penalty but when De Kock Steenkamp refused the referee's advice and was penalised for being offside the Cheetah flyhalf levelled the scores.
Grant had a telling break at the start of the second half and the Cheetahs went on a series of four penalties conceded. - Adriaan Strauss for a dangerous tackle, Ferreira (again) for a tackle near his line, Le Roux for offside with the added sanction of a yellow card and for an air tackle at a line-out. They were all eminently kickable but for the first three the Stormers went for line-outs, clearly in a hunt for tries. Three times the Cheetahs repelled the maul and the fourth time the Stormers capitulated and Grant kicked a goal. 6-3 after 47 minutes.
Aplon got himself caught in a tackle and was penalised. 6-6 after 52 minutes.
Then the Stormers struck gold. They won the kick-off after the penalty. The ball came back to Grant who thoughtfully lobbed a kick from far left to far right. Aplon chased. The Cheetah nearest him was bulky Trevor Nyakane and he was far too far away from the nippy wing. The ball bounced generously and Aplon scored. Grant converted. 13-6 after 53 minutes.
That was the scoring over an done with.
The Stormers spent most of the rest of the game on defence, tormented by Heinrich Brüssow and his turnovers.
* The weather was unpleasant, but there was nothing humans could have done about it. They certainly could have done something about the ugly ill-manners that Stormers supporters transported from Newlands to Free State Stadium. Booing is far and away the ugliest sound in rugby.
Man of the Match: Peter Grant of the skill, courage and almost preternatural calm.
For the Cheetahs:
Pens: Smit 2
For the Stormers:
Pens: Grant 2
Yellow card: Willie le Roux (Cheetahs, 45 - professional foul, offside)
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Robert Ebersohn, 12 Barry Geel, 11 Cameron Jacobs, 10 Riaan Smit, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Justin Downey, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Andries Ferreira (George Earle), 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Hercu Liebenberg, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 George Earle (Waltie Vermeulen), 19 Ashley Johnson, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Philip Snyman.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Quinn Roux, 19 Don Armand, 20 Louis Schrueder, 21 Burton Francis, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Sindile Mayende (South Africa), Reuben Rossouw (South Africa),
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)