CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The Stormers clinched top spot in the final Super Rugby standings with a 26-21 win over the Melbourne Rebels at Newlands on Saturday.
The South African side ended the league phase of the competition at the head of the table on 66 points, two clear of New Zealand'sWaikato Chiefs.
The Stormers, who will host a semi-final and the final if they get there, had to repel a strong second-half performance from the Australian visitors who trailed 16-0 at halftime before clawing their way back with three tries.
However, it was not enough to provide former Australia international Stirling Mortlock, an 80-test veteran, with a winning swansong in the 35-year-old's last game before retiring.
The Stormers played the first half with a strong wind at their backs and made all the early running as two penalties from flyhalf Peter Grant put them 6-0 ahead after eight minutes.
Grant ended the match with 16 points courtesy of two conversions and four penalties in a flawless kicking display.
The home team continued to build on their territorial advantage and they grabbed their first try, in the 14th minute, when outside centre Juan de Jongh stepped off his left foot to beat two defenders.
The Rebels fought back and they had the better of the second quarter of the match but were unable to breach a Stormers defence which had, before the game, conceded just 18 tries all season.
The hosts had the final say in the half as Grant succeeded with his third penalty on the stroke of halftime.
The Rebels made an impressive start to the second half and they finally broke through the Stormers' defence, in the 50th minute, when loosehead prop Rodney Blake dived over from close-range for a converted try.
The visitors had only won four games coming into the match but they belied their lowly log position by scoring their second try four minutes later when scrumhalf Nick Phipps scooped up a loose ball before crossing from three metres out.
Fullback Julian Huxley nailed the conversion to leave the Rebels trailing by just two points.
But the Stormers were stung into action and De Jongh grabbed his second try almost immediately after the restart when he ghosted through a gap in the Rebels' defence.
The Rebels were not prepared to give up and, with 10 minutes left, replacement scrumhalf Nic Stirzaker set up a try for fellow substitute Cooper Vuna after the halfback threw an outrageous dummy before a searing midfield break split the Stormers' defence wide open.
But the Stormers finally sealed the victory when Grant nailed a penalty with four minutes left.