The Investec Stormers played with a lot of passion and courage, but in the end that was not enough to secure them a first-ever Super 12 final berth.
The gallant Stormers’ hopes were snuffed out by the Crusaders in Christchurch’s Jade Stadium today when they went down 27-16 in the first of the semifinals.
At halftime the Stormers enjoyed a narrow 13-12 lead. They should have led by more, but three times they just could not finish when they were in promising positions to score tries.
The Stormers started the match like a house on fire and did not sign any signs of jetlag at all. They took the game to the home side and had them on the back foot for most of the first half.
The forwards dominated possession and De Wet Barry at inside centre proved to be more than a handful for the defenders. He ran with purpose and created an early opportunity or two for the visitors.
The Stormers also competed fiercely at lineout time and although they’ve lost one on their own throw early in the game, they also had the ascendancy in this department.
The Stormers took the early lead when flyhalf Gaffie du Toit slotted a penalty in the 11th minute, but Dan Carter ensured that his team was never too far behind.
With the score level at 6-6, it was Barry who scored the first try of the match after No 8 Adri Badenhorst snatched a Crusaders lineout ball five metres from their own try-line.
The Stormers forced a number of rucks through their forwards and when the ball went wide, Barry ran straight through Aaron Mauger’s feeble attempt to a tackle. He also was too powerful for fullback Ben Blair and dragged him along over the try-line.
Du Toit converted and the Stormers enjoyed a 13-6 lead after 31 minutes.
Two Carter penalties, however, ensured that the home crowd could feel much more at ease at the halftime break.
However, in the second half their tough travel schedule over the last six weeks seemed to have caught up with the Stormers and the Crusaders – who looked shell-shocked for most of the first half – took control.
The Crusaders were off to a flying start in the second half. Scrumhalf Justin Marshall finished off a great counter attack from deep after fullback Ben Blair and wing Marika Vunibaka did well to keep the movement going after a desperate attempt by Selborne Boome to stop them.
Carter converted to hand the home team the lead for the first time in the match (19-12). Du Toit slotted another penalty in the 46th minute to bring the Stormers back into contention at 16-19.
The Stormers launched a concerted attack on the Crusaders line, but they conceded a turnover close to the home side’s try-line and in the end Badenhorst was forced to kick the ball out close to his own try-line.
From the lineout the Crusaders started a rolling maul and the Stormers conceded a penalty for Carter to add another three points.
The turning point came in the 68th minute, when the Crusaders scored what seemed to be the easiest of tries. From a set scrum they sent the ball down the line and left wing Caleb Ralph was the man over to jog over without a hand being laid on him.
Carter missed for the first time, but his team looked comfortable at 27-16.
Just before that try Stormers coach Gert Smal made the first of his changes in order to get fresh legs on – replacing Bolla Conradie at scrumhalf with Neil de Kock. Willem Stoltz went on for Quinton Davids and in the 70th minute Pat Barnard replaced Daan Human at loosehead prop.
David Britz also ran on in the 76th minute to replace Pieter Dixon at hooker.
In the end, however, it was too tough a task for the brave warriors from Cape Town.
Investec Stormers – Try: De Wet Barry; Conversion: Gaffie du Toit; Penalties: Gaffie du Toit (3).
Crusaders – Tries: Justin Marshall, Caleb Ralph; Conversions: Dan Carter; Penalties: Dan Carter (5).