Defending Vodacom Super Rugby champions, the Chiefs of New Zealand, scored two late tries to beat the DHL Stormers by 36-20 in Hamilton on Friday.
The Chiefs led by 17-6 at half-time, and 24-6 early in the second half, before the DHL Stormers launched a spirited comeback to be within touching distance of the double defending champions.
An outstanding long-range Gio Aplon try – converted by Peter Grant – gave the visitors some hope, but they were boosted even further when the impressive Nizaam Carr got over from close-range to reduce the gap to 20-24 with just four minutes left in the game.
However, the Chiefs scored from the restart to get back to beyond the seven-point mark, before flanker Tanerau Latimer – also in his 100th Super Rugby match – rumbled over on the stroke of full-time to take the game away from the DHL Stormers.
Earlier, the DHL Stormers were led out by inspirational skipper Jean de Villiers on the great occasion of his 100th Vodacom Super Rugby match for this proud franchise.
And it was the Stormers who took an early 3-0 lead, via a Demetri Catrakilis penalty goal, before Chiefs No.10 Aaron Cruden equalised for the hosts.
Chiefs left-wing James Lowe got the game’s first five-pointer at the 18-minute mark, following a strong counter-attack, and then Catrakilis landed his second penalty goal two minutes later to leave his team trailing by 6-10.
The score remained unchanged as half-time neared but the Chiefs scored a fortuitous try just as the half was coming to an end, the ball being knocked back in defence by the DHL Stormers and a Chiefs player – inside centre Tom Marshall – dotting down.
Cruden converted, again, from out wide and the hosts went into the break at 17-6 up, before adding another seven-pointer as the second half began – this time after good interplay between right-wing Tim Nanai-Williams and the try-scorer, scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow.
Lesser teams would have buckled at 6-24 down after 43 minutes of action, but the DHL Stormers knuckled down and began fighting their way back into the game.
Aplon’s try in the 62nd minute – after the ball went down the backline – was a gem, his final fend and acceleration taking him clear, whilst Carr deserved his score (in the 75th minute) after a near 40-minute cameo for the replacement loose forward.
Fellow loose forward replacement Siya Kolisi also featured prominently in his few minutes on the park, but the Chiefs trapped the Stormers in their own 22 in the closing stages – eventually getting those final tries to deny the DHL Stormers the victory or a bonus point of any sort.
The DHL Stormers, missing a host of first-choice players due to injury – including the likes of Springboks Frans Malherbe, Pat Cilliers, Eben Etzebeth and Juan de Jongh, will head to Australia tomorrow for the next leg of their tough four-match Super Rugby tour.
They will face the Brumbies in Canberra next Saturday, before wrapping up their tour against the Reds in Brisbane the following weekend.
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Lowe, Marshall, Kerr-Barlow, Koloamatangi, Latimer
Cons: Cruden 4
For the DHL Stormers:
Tries: Aplon, Carr
Cons: Grant 2
Pens: Catrakilis 2
Chiefs: 15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Tom Marshall, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Michael Fitzgerald, 20 Tevita Koloamatangi, 21 Brad Webber, 22 Robbie Fruean, 23 Asaeli Tikoirotuma.
DHL Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Jean de Villiers (captain), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Gio Aplon, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Deon Fourie, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Siya Kolisi, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Sailosi Tagicakibau.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)