The DHL Stormers, despite a magnificent second-half fightback, went down 20-25 to the top of the log Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday.
The visiting team from the Cape went to Westpac Stadium hoping to end the Hurricanes’ unbeaten run in the 2015 Vodacom Super Rugby tournament and they very nearly did so.
The DHL Stormers kept the Hurricanes scoreless in the second half as they scored 17 points to nil, but the hosts’ first-half performance just proved too much in the end.
First-half tries by the ‘Canes’ Nehe Milner-Skudder (fullback), Julian Savea (wing) and Beauden Barrett (flyhalf) helped them into a 25-3 half-time lead but the DHL Stormers showed great tenacity, skill and power to fight their way back into the match.
A penalty try, after a powerful DHL Stormers scrum, saw the gap close to 10-25 after 49 minutes and from there it was all the Stormers as the visitors kept the ball through phase after phase and forced the ‘Canes into making tackle after tackle.
That pressure, led by the forward pack and, in particular, Schalk Burger, saw Huw Jones – a late replacement for Juan de Jongh (ankle) in the starting XV – muscle his way over from close range, only for the try to be disallowed by the TMO.
The ‘Canes, in fact, were awarded a penalty from Jones’s non-try but the visitors ran the ball back and the selfsame Jones forced his way over in the right-hand corner thanks to a wonderful pass from skipper Duane Vermeulen.
Demetri Catrakilis landed the tricky conversion from out wide and the DHL Stormers trailed by just eight points – at 17-25 – with 15 minutes left.
The DHL Stormers continued to attack and were rewarded with a Kurt Coleman – on for Catrakilis – penalty six minutes from full-time to put them right within striking distance but they spent the final few minutes of the game defending on their goalline.
To their credit, however, the DHL Stormers forced a penalty and ran the ball from their own goalline in search of what would have been a remarkable victory.
With time running out replacement lock Ruan Botha galloped into ‘Canes territory – down the left-hand touchline – only to be isolated in the tackle and penalised for not releasing.
It was a disappointing finish to the match for the brave DHL Stormers, especially after their brilliant fightback, but the visitors – who picked up a losing bonus point – will know they can still pick up two victories in their final two tour matches in Australia (v the Waratahs and the Force) over the next fortnight.
For the Hurricanes:
Tries: Milner-Skudder, Savea, Barrett
Cons: Barrett 2
Pens: Barrett 2
For the DHL Stormers:
Tries: Penalty try, Jones
Cons: Catrakilis 2
Pens: Catrakilis, Coleman
Hurricanes: 15 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Callum Gibbins, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Motu Matu’u, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Ben May, 18 Chris Eves, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Adam Hill, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 James Marshall.
DHL Stormers: 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Huw Jones, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen (captain), 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Manuel Carizza, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Vincent Koch, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Ruan Botha, 20 Michael Rhodes, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Johnny Kotze.
Referee: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand), Mike Lash (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Wratt (New Zealand)