The DHL Stormers suffered a heartbreaking 15-21 Super Rugby loss to the Waratahs at Allianz Park in Sydney on Saturday.
The Stormers held a narrow four-point lead going into the final ten minutes, but a late try by the Waratahs – who scored two tries on the night – sealed the victory for the home side who have lost just once in Sydney this season.
It now means that the Stormers have lost two games on the road, but they will be eyeing up next Friday’s meeting with the Rebels in Melbourne (kick-off 11h40) as a form of redemption after a tough tour of Australasia.
The Waratahs led 8-3 at half-time, but it was the Men from Cape Town who registered the first points of the second half through that man Pietersen in the 45th minute.
Pietersen knocked another one over just three minutes later to hand the lead back to the Stormers for the first time since the 15th minute, but McKibbin put his team back ahead with his second penalty in the 52nd minute.
Pietersen, however, had another chance to regain the lead in the 57th minute and he made no mistake to make it 12-11 to the visitors as the game moved into the final quarter.
The Stormers began exerting more pressure as the game wore on, allowing Pietersen (who had a 100% record at goal on the night) another shot at the posts to extend their lead beyond the three-point barrier at 15-11.
Going into the final ten minutes the Stormers lost both starting loose forwards Duane Vermeulen and Rynhardt Elstadt to injury, but it still looked like they would hold on for a famous win on the road.
However, the Waratahs won a series of penalties on the DHL Stormers line and their pressure eventually told as high-profile rugby league convert Israel Folau crashed over for a valuable try.
Folau’s try put the hosts ahead by 16-15 with three minutes left, but, crucially, replacement back Berrick Barnes landed the crucial conversion for an 18-15 lead – meaning a penalty would not be enough for the Stormers.
A mistake from the re-start handed the ball back to the Waratahs and they won a penalty on the stroke of full-time, with Barnes landing a long-range attempt at goal to make it a six-point win against a determined Stormers side.
Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers was visibly disappointed afterwards, saying: “I thought we were in it. We fought back nicely to regain the lead with about ten minutes to go, but those two injuries (in our back row) cost us.
“We lost them (to injury) and seemed to lose our rhthym on defence too and we let in that try. Afterwards we struggled to hold onto the ball, but well done to the Waratahs – it was a good win for them.”
Looking ahead to next week’s Rebels fixture, their final tour game, De Villiers added: “It’s a tough competition, every game you play you have to be at your best (to come away with a win). Next week will be no different. We need to get ourselves together… it’s a short week, we’re playing on Friday, but hopefully we can put up a better performance then.”
For the Waratahs:
Tries: Crawford, Folau
Pens: McKibbin 2, Barnes
For the DHL Stormers:
Pens: Pietersen 5
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Rob Horne, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dave Dennis (captain), 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 John Ulugia, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Will Skelton, 19 Mitchell Chapman, 20 Pat McCutcheon, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Berrick Barnes, 23 Drew Mitchell.
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 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Don Armand, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Gerhard van den Heever.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)