An off-colour Vodacom Stormers team had a disappointing start to the overseas leg of their campaign when a last-gasp drop goal by the Western Force flyhalf David Hill denied them victory in their Vodacom Super 14 match at the ME Bank Stadium in Perth on Friday.
The Stormers led 15-13 with almost no time left on the clock. Everybody thought the match was over, but Hill had other ideas, coolly slotting the drop goal that handed his side a 16-15 triumph in front of an elated home crowd.
The Stormers battled all game long and did not resemble the team that put up such thrilling performances at Newlands. They battled to get passes to hand and mistakes at crucial times cost them the game.
Their defence was as staunch as ever, although the Force scored the only try of the game. It was on attack that the Stormers lacked composure and they couldn’t cross the Force’s try-line once – mainly due to unforced errors.
The Cape franchise would know that this tour doesn’t get any easier and they need a major improvement if they want to keep the semi-finals hopes alive.
They had to rely on flyhalf Peter Grant to keep them in the hunt with his kicking boot.
Grant got the scoreboard ticking in the 5th minute when he slotted a well-taken penalty (3-0) after the visitors cooked up a good attacking movement, forcing the Force offside.
In the 14th min. the Force shocked the Stormers when they ripped open their much-vaunted defence and flank David Pocock finished off under the poles. James O’Connor, who handled twice in the movement, converted to give his side a 7-3 lead.
Stormers lock Andries Bekker received a stern warning from referee Stuart Dickinson for a late tackle on left wing Mark Bartholomeusz whose cut inside created the space for Pocock. The Force then took control of the game and forced the Stormers into a few mistakes.
The Stormers had a gilt-edged try-scoring chance in the 23rd min. after they have won turnover ball and some great work by lock Andries Bekker, wing Bryan Habana and hooker Tiaan Liebernberg. Captain Schalk Burger however dropped the ball with the Force defence in disarray.
The Stormers were rewarded though when Grant slotted his second penalty in the 26th min.
The Force hit back with a vengeance and scrumhalf Chris O’ Young almost found a way through with a sniping run. The support was lacking though and Ricky Januarie kicked the ball away after O’Young and No 8 Matt Hodgson left the ball unattended behind the subsequent set scrum.
O ‘Connor had a chance to extend the lead for his side after the hooter had gone for halftime but he missed a kickable attempt. The Force thus led 7-6 at halftime.
In the 44th min. Stormers wing Sereli Naqelevuki was denied a try by a great O’ Connor tackle. Outside centre Mitch Inman helped to prevent the big wing from reaching for the line.
The Stormers tried to inject some urgency in their game by replacing Ricky Januarie with Dewaldt Duvenage at scrumhalf.
The Stormers took the lead again when Grant slotted a penalty in the 48th min.
The Stormers then spurned another great try-scoring opportunity when Gio Aplon’s pass to Naqelevuki went over the touchline.
O’Connor slotted a long penalty kick in the 54th min. to give their loyal supporters renewed hope (10-9). Grant, however, beautifully read the line of a penalty kick in the 61st min. to regain the lead for the Stormers (12-10).
O’Connor answered with a penalty to hand his side a 13-12 lead.
The Force didn’t obey the laws at the breakdown and Grant succeeded with his fifth penalty in the 67th min (15-13).
Flyhalf David Hill had the chance to be his side’s hero in the 78th min. when he attempted a 48m penalty kick, but much to the disappointment of his team-mates and their supporters he pulled it to the left.
Hill, however, calmly slotted a drop goal with no time left on the clock to hand his side their first victory of the competition and consign the visitors to their second defeat.
Western Force – Try: David Pocock; Conversion: James O’Connor; Penalties: O’Connor (2); Drop goal: David Hill.
Vodacom Stormers – Penalties: Peter Grant (5)