The Vodacom Stormers ran out 27-24 victors after surviving a late onslaught by the Queensland Reds in the Vodacom Super 14 match played at Newlands, Cape Town on Friday night.
Despite the win, the Vodacom Stormers would feel hard done by because they missed out on a great chance of securing a bonus-point try, four minutes from the end when their skipper Jean de Villiers dropped the ball after pulling off an interception on his own 22 metre line.
Two instances of good fortune in the first minute helped the Reds to score an unconverted try moments after they kicked off into the Stormers’ 22m area.
First, the Stormers were blown up at a ruck and the Reds ran the short-arm penalty right up to the Stormers’ posts. The Stormers scrambled a turn-over at a breakdown point but lock Andries Bekker who had ranged up in the backline in the flyhalf position tried to boot into touch but his attempt was charged down by Reds flyhalf Quade Cooper, who followed up to dot down the first five-pointer in the game (5-0).
Three minutes later, the Stormers cancelled out this fortuitous advance with a try by rightwing Tonderai Chavhanga after neat breaks by flyhalf Peter Grant and flanker Duane Vermeulen, who figured among the changes in the starting line-up. Grant’s conversion gave the Stormers a lead two-point lead (7-5).
Vermeulen was moved to the flank to accommodate Luke Watson at No 8 while Francois Louw was moved to the substitutes’ bench where he took the place of Watson.
The Reds saw off a period of pressure which was channelled mainly down the right flank where winger Sireli Naqelevuki raised hopes with a few threatening runs down the line but the cover defence managed to force him into touch on occasions.
Midway through the first half, the Reds surprised the much more-fancied Stormers with a few sorties into the 22m area where the home side’s defence only just managed to thwart two scoring attempts about a metre away from their tryline.
The Stormers were strangely subdued after defending their lead and only came alive again in the 33rd minute when they drove powerfully down the middle with their pack to take play up the Reds tryline.
However, their only reward for this late first-half flurry was a Grant penalty to seal halftime score at 10-5.
There was a far greater sense of urgency about the Stormers’ play as the second half got under way and after they worked the ball wide in either direction Bekker dived over in the corner, in the 43rd minute.
With Grant’s splendid touchline conversion on target, the Stormers opened up a commanding 17-5, which became 20-5 five minutes later when the flyhalf struck with his second penalty in the match.
Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers engineered his side’s next try when he split the Reds defence near the halfway line and, after drawing the defence, he sent Naqelevuki clear to dot down close to the posts in the 53rd minute. Grant’s conversion sailed through the uprights, much to the acclaim of the 33 000-strong crowd (27-5).
There was plenty for the home crowd to cheer about in the next 10 minutes or so as the Stormers secured turn-over ball which set up breakaway opportunities for Ricky Januarie, Luke Watson and Schalk Brits but they all lacked the speed to reach the tryline.
With the match safely in the bag, the Stormers made several changes around 68th minute mark and with the fresh legs still trying to find their bearing the Reds capitalised to score an unconverted try through their substitute hooker Saia Faingaa (27-10).
All that remained now for the Stormers to do was to score the bonus-point try in the last 12 minutes of play.
In their eagerness to attain that objective they lost their way and never really managed to break out of their half. Instead the Reds surprised with a 73rd minute try through Scott Higginbotham, which Blair Gordon converted (27-17).
Near the end, it seemed as if the Reds were better placed to score the bonus-point try as they succeeded in pinning down the Stormers in their half. Indeed, that’s the way it turned out when Van Humphries scored two minutes from the end and with Gordon converting, the Reds secured a second bonus point for losing by less than seven points (27 – 24).
Vodacom Stormers: Tries – Tonderai Chavanga, Andries Bekker, Sireli Naqelevuki. Conversions – Peter Grant (3). Penalties – Grant (2).
Reds: Tries – Quade Cooper, Saia Faingaa, Scott Higgenbotham, Van Humphries. Conversion – Ben Lucas (2)