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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Stormers' second-half surge seals it



The DHL Stormers shook off their four-match losing streak with a last quarter surge that saw them score a deserved 30-22 win over the Blues in a bruising but exciting Vodacom Super Rugby match at Newlands on Friday night.

It was the first time this season that the Blues have lost to anything other than a fellow New Zealand team while it was the second Stormers win over a Kiwi side at Newlands.

They beat the Chiefs here before embarking on a three-match tour of New Zealand where they lost each game by a comprehensive margin. Just before that they also surrendered what had been a six-match winning streak by losing to the Lions.

Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said beforehand that he viewed it as a massive game in terms of getting his team to rediscover some of the confidence they would have lost in New Zealand and the Stormers did that.

However, for a long time he would have been biting his nails as the Blues made a proper first of it after a massive brawl in the 21st minute that saw Stormers vice-captain Eben Etzebeth sent to the sin-bin and which appeared to galvanise the visitors.

On first look from the vantage point of the press box it looked like Stormers wing Seabelo Senatla had been guilty of a high tackle in a desperate attempt to prevent a Blues score, but the television replay showed that the first impression was wrong.

What wasn’t wrong was the call to yellow card Etzebeth as it was he who started the tussle that led to a brawl that lasted for a couple of minutes before it was brought under control by referee Jaco van Heerden.

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Perhaps Van Heerden could have carded a Blues player too for there was excessive retaliation.

With Etzebeth off the field the Blues chose that moment to get the bit properly between their teeth and in the 10 minutes that the Stormers were without their big Springbok lock, who played inspired rugby when he did come back on, the Blues overturned a 3-0 deficit with two tries that took them to a 12-3 lead.

The first try was scored from the scrum that they elected to take from the penalty five metres out and under the posts that resulted from the Etzebeth incident.

Sonny Bill Williams did well to hold the ball up in the tackle and it was eventually his centre partner George Moala who fell through the gap in the Stormers' defence on their line for the first try of the match.

The second try was scored by hooker James Parsons after the Blues had put themselves in an attacking position when a kick ahead bounced badly for Cheslin Kolbe and the Stormers were penalised.

Etzebeth was just about to come back onto the field as the scrum was set so he could only watch as first the ball went to Williams, who again stood up well in the tackle before releasing it, and this time it was hooker James Parsons who went over on the right.

FIGHTBACK

The Stormers did stabilise when Etzebeth was back on the field and they profited from one of those decisions on the stroke of halftime that, had it not worked for them, would have been classed as foolish.

However, the decision not to take a kickable penalty that would have cut the halftime deficit to six and bring the Stormers back into the game worked for the Stormers as skipper Siya Kolisi worked his way over between the posts.

It was an important score as it meant the Stormers were well back in it at 12-10 down at halftime, but it quickly went pear shaped for them after the break as in less than two minutes that man Williams again produced another brilliant touch, this time an excellent pass, that sent in Blake Gibson near the posts with the Stormers' defence in disarray.

A word on that Stormers defence though – they have clearly been working on their line speed since returning from New Zealand and while the Blues did score three good tries, the New Zealand team did struggle to come to terms with the swarming, advancing Stormers defensive system.

The Blues too were more defensively aggressive than usual and also cut down the Stormers’ space, which was why at times mistakes were made that made the game appear scrappy.

The Stormers forwards always looked to have the edge on their Blues opponents, however, particularly in the first quarter, when they should have scored more than just three points from the amount of time they spent camped in the Blues’ red zone.

It was after one of the many penalties that the Blues conceded during the opening 12 minutes that wing Matt Duffie was yellow carded for repeated infringing.

The Blues wing was to later receive a red card when he dived on Kolbe after the Stormers wing had broken clear.

The Blues had to play the last 13 minutes with only 14 men, but the tide had already turned against them, with the Stormers' scrum taking control after the replacements were called on.

Fullback Marais kicked a penalty in the 53rd minute to start the fightback and seven minutes later, on the hour mark, flyhalf Dillyn Leyds ensured that the Stormers capitalised on a long period where they were on attack by taking a quick tap penalty and diving over.

The Marais conversion put them back into the lead for the first time since the 23rd minute and they were never to relinquish it, with Marais adding a further penalty to a try that replacement loose-forward Sikhumbuzo Notshe scored after Damian de Allende, who came on for EW Viljoen, had thrust himself towards the line and been held up just short with 11 minutes to go.

That put the Stormers more than a score ahead but they were playing most of the game in the Blues' half by that point and it was the New Zealand team that was making mistakes under constant pressure.

They did bring three points back through a Bryn Gatland penalty in the 73rd minute but the Stormers promptly kicked another through Marais to make sure of the result.

It was the Stormers who were pressing when the final whistle blew – in fact Marais missed a penalty on the hooter - and their win was richly deserved and will give them much needed confidence as they head to Durban next week for their derby against the Sharks.

SCORERS:

DHL Stormers 30 – Tries: Siya Kolisi, Dillyn Leyds and Sikhumbuzo Notshe; Conversions: SP Marais 3; Penalties: SP Marais 3.

Blues 22 – Tries: George Moala, James Parsons and Blake Gibson; Conversions: Piers Francis 2; Penalty: Bryn Gatland.



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