The DHL Stormers showed great character in the second half, but could not avoid a 45-28 defeat against defending Vodacom Super Rugby champions the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
The DHL Stormers scored four tries at the AMI Stadium, and were pushing hard for a fifth at the death, but conceded seven in a high-scoring affair.
The hosts made a fast start to the game, as they put the DHL Stormers under pressure early on and they got reward with wing George Bridge scoring in the corner.
Crusaders hooker Codie Taylor was next to get on the scoresheet to make it 12-0 , with the DHL Stormers being forced to make plenty of tackles in the early exchanges.
Flank Billy Harmon and scrumhalf Bryn Hall would also cross the whitewash to give their team a commanding 26-0 lead after a frantic opening 25 minutes.
The DHL Stormers created a number of opportunities on attack themselves, with Damian de Allende, Raymond Rhule, Dillyn Leyds and Cobus Wiese all making telling contributions with the ball in hand, but they were struggling to finish them off against a resolute Crusaders defence.
Eventually their hard work paid off as a patient build-up saw prop JC Janse van Rensburg force his way over for a try.
The DHL Stormers were struck a further blow just before half-time, with Pieter-Steph du Toit being stretchered off after a clash on the Crusaders 22 which shook the ball loose and saw Bridge eventually go over for his second try to take the Crusaders’ lead out to 31-7 at the break.
The DHL Stormers came out in the second half with some serious intent and got a try almost immediately with vital contributions from a number of players.
Seabelo Senatla won a high ball and got it away to Ramone Samuels who founnd captain Siya Kolisi in support. The skipper was brought down just short, but the support was there and big Wilco Louw powered over for a try.
They were not done there and kept the pressure squarely on the home side with a number of substitutions up front. The fresh legs did the trick as multiple phases in the Crusaders’ 22 eventually saw JD Schickerling cross for a try to make it 31-21.
The Crusaders responded with a tries from wing Seta Tamanivalu and flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, but the DHL Stormers would have the final say as replacement prop Steven Kitshoff placed the ball against the post for the fourth try for the visitors.
To their credit, the DHL Stormers never stopped pushing and replacement scrumhalf Justin Phillips had the ball over the tryline at the death, but the TMO ruled that the ball had not been grounded.
The DHL Stormers now head to Dunedin, where they will face the Highlanders next week.
For DHL Stormers:
Tries: Janse van Rensburg, Louw, Schickerling, Kitshoff
Cons: Marais 4
Tries: Bridge 2, Taylor, Harmon, Hall, Tamanivalu, Mo’unga
Cons: Mo’unga 5
DHL Stormers: 15 SP Marais, 14 Seabelo Senatla, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Dillyn Leyds, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Cobus Wiese, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Dean Muir, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Kobus van Dyk, 22 Justin Phillips, 23 George Whitehead.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Peter Samu, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Chris King, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele.