The DHL Stormers started their four-match Super Rugby tour of Australasia with a hard-fought 18-16 win over the Hurricanes on Friday.
The gutsy visitors started the match with the news that coach Allister Coetzee had been forced into a late change – flanker Siya Kolisi unable to take his place in the starting line-up after battling a groin injury all week.
Fit-again Rynhardt Elstadt was promoted to the starting line-up – at No.6 – with prop Frans Malherbe joining the bench in jersey No.18. That meant just one back five forward, Nizaam Carr, would be on the bench – but the young loose forward did not disappoint when he was pressed into action in the second half.
Both teams scored two tries in a tense match in Palmerston North, but the boot of Joe Pietersen was again the difference for the Stormers – so too a crucial conversion charge-down from fit-again DHL Stormers left-wing Bryan Habana.
The ‘Canes were first on the scoreboard through flyhalf Beauden Barrett, who kicked two penalties to make it 6-0 after 26 minutes. However, the Stormers never panicked and used their powerful pack of forwards to keep them in the match and they were rewarded after a series of maul raids on the ‘Canes line just after the half-hour mark.
It took them four attempts in succession to open the scoring – through a Michael Rhodes try – but it also saw Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush sin-binned and the Stormers finished the first half with a one-man advantage. Pietersen converted Rhodes’s try and the Stormers led, for the first time in the game, by 7-6 after 33 minutes.
But, despite being a man down, the Hurricanes hit back shortly before half-time when left-wing Matt Proctor crossed for a try – Habana then charging down Barrett’s conversion attempt to leave the score at 11-7 in the ‘Canes’ favour at the break.
The second half began with two Pietersen penalty goals as the visitors regained the lead – at 13-11 – after 53 minutes of play in the match.
But the Hurricanes made the next move as André Taylor dived over in the left-hand corner, Barrett not converting again to keep the DHL Stormers within touching distance at 13-16 down after 60 minutes of tense action.
A strong DHL Stormers scrum saw the visitors hit back almost straight after Taylor’s try, Vermeulen powering down the short side and Aplon slicing through a hole and using all his strength to dot the ball down in the tackle. The wind cost Pietersen – who kicked for goal so cleverly all night – the conversion, but the try nudged the Stormers into the lead at 18-16 with 15 minutes of action remaining.
Some more Aplon magic, this time on defence, rescued a potential Hurricanes try-scoring moment in the final ten minutes and the Stormers worked their way into the ‘Canes’ 22 where they finished the match with some ruthless defence.
The ‘Canes won a scrum-feed with one minute left on the clock, but the Stormers – who by then had rotated their entire front row – shoved their opponents almost off the ball to win a scrum turnover.
Dewaldt Duvenage fed the final scrum, as the clock hit the 80-minute mark, and his dive pass found replacement Damian de Allende on the touchline; the Super Rugby rookie kicking the ball into touch to seal the superb win.
For the Hurricanes:
Tries: Proctor, Taylor
Pens: Barrett 2
For the DHL Stormers:
Tries: Rhodes, Aplon
Pens: Pietersen 2
Hurricanes: 15 André Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Matt Proctor, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Motu Matu’u, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Ben May, 18 Mark Reddish, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Tusi Pisi.
DHL Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Michael Rhodes, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Pat Cilliers, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Nic Groom, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Damian de Allende.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)