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FEATURED

Duvenage conversion clinches epic win

PUBLISHED: May 20, 2011



They were singing in the DHL Stormers changeroom at Eden Park on Friday night and so they should have been, as Schalk Burger and his team completed one of the greatest comebacks in their history to beat the Blues 28-26 and retain control of the South African conference log.

The Auckland venue has been the scene of some of the greatest Stormers triumphs, such as the 50-pointer they put on the Blues there in 2004, and this victory means that the Cape side have now scored four wins at Eden Park in eight appearances there since the start of the Sanzar tournament.

But arguably none of those wins were as important as the one the Stormers scored this time, as they looked dead and buried at halftime, when they were down 19-3, and their ownership of top position in the conference, as well as their place in the top four, looked in serious jeopardy.

With Lionel Cronje, who was playing instead of first choice Peter Grant, limping off in the first half, the Stormers were forced to bring on reserve scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage at pivot, and he had two relatively young and inexperienced centres alongside him in the form of Juan de Jongh and Johann Sadie. So the Stormers, at 16 points behind and with the rain teeming down, should have had no price.

Yet it is out of such adversity that legends are born, and Duvenage, De Jongh and Sadie just happened to be the men who scored all but five of the points in a second half which the Stormers took 25-7.

Not only that, Duvenage kicked an important angled penalty to bring his team back into the game in the last minutes before Schalk Burger drove over the line from an attacking lineout to level the scores.

That left Duvenage, who had missed an earlier conversion from a much easier position, with the conversion attempt to win it.

As Duvenage has so little experience of place-kicking at the highest level, the Stormers might at that stage have settled for a draw. But think again as up stepped Duvenage to raise the flags and start his team’s wild, jubilant celebrations.

And the euphoria was wholly understandable for if there were two big question-marks over the Stormers heading into the business end of this Super Rugby season, they were their ability to chase a game, and to handle the pressure of having to win at the death.

They answered both questions in the most emphatic fashion and will now go to Australia for the last two matches with confidence boosted and with the momentum with them.

If you looked just at the stats from the game you would wonder why the Stormers didn’t win by more.

Apart from the lineouts, where they unexpectedly struggled, they were dominant in most aspects of forward play throughout the game and they also had the territorial advantage.

TOO MANY ERRORS

What was letting them down until the hour mark was their inability to hold onto the ball, with their error-rate mirroring that of the second half of the match in Hamilton the previous week.

But they were trying so much more with ball in hand than they had in previous matches, and eventually their patience at working away at the Blues’ defensive system just started to pay off.

The first try was a fitting one as it involved excellent inter-play between De Jongh and Sadie, with De Jongh sending out a flat pass that put Sadie into a half-gap which he capitalised on by off-loading inside again to De Jongh, who completed the try.

That put the Stormers back into the game at 19-13 with most of the last quarter to play, and the match was then turned on its head when Sadie went over untouched for the Stormers’ second try.

Duvenage might have ended up regretting the missed conversion, for it was an easy one and it would have put the Stormers into the lead for the first time in the match.

Instead, the Stormers had to endure another one of those cruel bounces that allowed the Chiefs back the previous week, and when Lachy Monroe went over to make it 26-18 to the Blues with 10 minutes to go, that looked to be that.

However the Stormers refused to give up, and Burger showed he had learned his lesson from the Crusaders game by letting Duvenage kick the penalty that brought the Stormers back into range. When next he had an attacking penalty though it was a no-brainer – there were just three minutes to play and five points to make up.

Ricky Januarie put it out on the corner flag, the Stormers won the lineout, Burger barreled over on the left-hand side of the loose-scrum to leave the TMO to make a decision over which he took agonising minutes before confirming that this was not a match the Stormers were going to lose.

Duvenage kicked the conversion, the Stormers forwards controlled the restart by setting up the ball for the few seconds it took for the siren to sound, and Januarie made sure by kicking it over the dead-ball line.

FAIRY-TALE ENDING

Such a fairy-tale ending would have seemed impossible in the first half, but then isn’t that why they call them fairy-tale endings?

The Stormers’ problems started with their inability to set up from the perfect platforms that they set for themselves early on. Three times in the first 10 minutes they had the benefit of a lineout throw-in inside the Blues’ 22-metre area, but three times they wasted it.

The Stormers appeared almost too determined to keep ball in hand, so it was an irony that it was off one of the first Stormers field kicks of the night that the Blues scored their first try, with Conrad Jantjes putting in a kick after the Stormers had been forced back into their own half after an excellent turnover in the tackle from Blues prop John Afoa inside his own 22.

The Blues are adept counter-attackers and that is what they proved off Jantjes’s ineffectual kick, with Stephen Brett creating the try for Alby Mathewson with some excellent stepping. The conversion meant that it was 10-0 to the Blues at a stage that they had enjoyed hardly any of the game and were being walloped in the battle for possession.

The Stormers’ nightmare was compounded in that first half by the yellow card flashed by referee Keith Brown for a cynical infringement to flank Francois Louw with eight minutes left before halftime. The yellow card coincided with the fourth Blues penalty awarded in a kickable position, and McAlister made it 19-3, which remained the score until the break.

That score might have inspired the Stormers though, for they would have remembered that against the Chiefs they led 20-3 and lost it. Like seven days ago, it turned out to be another game of two halves.

 

Scorers:
Blues –
Tries: Alby Mathewson, Lachie Munro. Conversions: Luke McAlister (2). Penalties: McAlister (4).
DHL Stormers – Tries: Juan de Jongh, Johann Sadie, Schalk Burger. Conversions: Dewald Duvenhage (2). Penalties: Lionel Cronje, Duvenhage (2).