The DHL Stormers suffered their first tour defeat, going down 17-18 to the Blues in Albany on Friday – despite scoring two tries to nil at the North Harbour Stadium.
The Stormers trailed by 3-9 at half-time after a frantic start but the visitors were unable to put points on the board in the first half in this hard-fought Super Rugby encounter.
The second half began with lock Eben Etzebeth entering the fray as an injury replacement for the consisten De Kock Steenkamp and the young Springbok had a good forty minutes in his first appearance of 2013.
However, it was captain Jean de Villiers who was the hero for his side – his two second-half tries putting the DHL Stormers in the hunt right up until the end.
Before then, however, the Blues kept the scoreboard ticking over as they extended their lead to 15-3 after 50 minutes – flyhalf Chris Noakes having kicked five penalties to put his team ahead at that point.
It then became the Jean de Villiers show, as the classy centre first dotted down from close-range after centre-mate Juan de Jongh had cut the line with a great angled run to make it 10-15 after 66 minutes.
Noakes missed a penalty soon after but he kicked a crucial one with his seventh attempt to make it 18-10 with seven minutes left on the stadium clock.
De Villiers then scored one of the tries of the season, taking a good drift ball of replacement flyhalf Elton Jantjies and powering his way through the initial defensive line before pinning his ears back and finishing strongly.
Pietersen’s conversion was crucial – as it meant the Stormers trailed by just one point (17-18) and the Blues kicked-off deep to try and pin their visitors back in their own half.
The DHL Stormers worked their way into Blues territory for one final attempt, with just three minutes left on the stadium clock, and the Blues seemed to have repelled that attack – until the Stormers won a scrum-feed right on full-time.
Replacement scrumhalf Louis Schreuder fed the scrum, just as the full-time hooter sounded, and the Stormers carried the ball through some 20 phases. The penalty never came and Jantjies was forced into a hurried drop-goal attempt which brought about the final whistle from referee Glen Jackson.
The Stormers – who beat the Hurricanes by 18-16 last Friday – will be disappointed with the result, after missing a few opportunities on the night, but they will now travel to Sydney to take on the Waratahs and the Rebels in the Australian leg of their four-match Super Rugby tour.
For the Blues:
Pens: Noakes 6
For the DHL Stormers:
Tries: De Villiers 2
Cons: Pietersen 2
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (captain), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Angus Ta’avao, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Brendon O’Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Lolagi Visinia.
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 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Eben Etzebeth, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Damian de Allende.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)