Shaun Stevenson’s late score helped the Chiefs overcome the Stormers 11-17 at Newlands in Cape Town and advance to the semi-finals where they will play the Crusaders in Christchurch.
This was not the classic these two sides served up in April, but rather an arm wrestle, where points were at a premium.
The Stormers had only won one of their previous eight playoff and knockout matches in Super Rugby and up until the end, were still in the contest, but the inevitable happened, making it one from nine.
Robbie Fleck’s team were always playing catch-up after trailing by six points at the break.
However, after Sam Cane’s yellow card in the second-half, Fleck’s men gave themselves a chance when captain Siya Kolisi finished off a wonderful move in the corner to make it a one-point ball game.
But the Stormers could not take full advantage of the extra man and allowed the Kiwis to stay ahead through the accurate boot of Damian McKenzie.
At 11-12, the home team were still in the game, but some poor discipline and tactical mistakes let the New Zealand team stay ahead and with time running out, land the knockout blow.
With three minutes remaining, Stevenson scored with his first touch of the ball, sending the Stormers crashing out at the same stage, against the same opposition as last year.
The Stormers can have no gripes about this loss; they had enough possession but could not take their chances and in a close contest, the team that takes their opportunities, often wins.
The first-half was tight, with both teams making many handling errors. The Chiefs were the main culprits, with an unusual display of poor passing and offloading.
Somehow, they managed to stay ahead of their hosts after McKenzie’s second penalty, on 32 minutes, gave the Kiwis a three-point lead. SP Marais had given the Stormers a 3-0 lead eight minutes prior to the fullback’s two penalties.
The home team could not make Chiefs errors count in their favour and with a minute remaining before the interval, McKenzie extended his side’s lead with his third shot at goal.
The second-half started with an excellently worked try by the Stormers. Instead of kicking for poles, Kolisi’s gamble paid dividends with the skipper scoring in the corner to reduce the scores to a point.
Marais could not add the conversion, but his team had some momentum. McKenzie kicked his fourth penalty to make it 8-12 after Jaco Peyper pinged the Stormers at the breakdown.
Cane was yellow carded at the beginning of the last quarter after TMO Johan Greeff decided the flanker’s high hit on Dillyn Leyds’ chin, was dangerous and reckless.
Marais brought the scores to within one point with his second penalty goal of the evening. The Stormers were on the end of some generous refereeing by Peyper, who pinged the Chiefs three times in quick succession.
With eight minutes remaining, Marais missed another kick from exactly the same spot as the conversion of his skipper’s try. This was an important miss.
The Chiefs mounted a series of attacks, going through the phases inside the opposition’s 22.
They started attacking the fringes of the ruck and it worked, gaining ground as they pushed the Stormers backwards.
Eventually, they went wide. Aaron Cruden sent a wide pass to an unmarked Stevenson and the substitute coasted over the whitewash to score his team’s only try of the game. McKenzie missed the important conversion.
Had the fullback made the sideline kick, the home team could not have won. Instead, it gave the Stormers a last chance to win the game if they scored a converted try.
It did not matter in the end, as the home team’s last attack fizzled out, leaving their supporters to endure yet another playoff loss.
Final Score: Stormers 11 (3) Chiefs 17 (9)
Tries – Kolisi
Pen – Marais (2)
Tries – Stevenson
Pen – McKenzie (4)
Cards – Cane (Yellow, 60th minute)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Ref 1: Rasta Rasivhenge
Assistant Ref 2: Quinton Immelman
TMO: Johan Greeff
15 Sarel Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siyamthanda Kolisi (captain), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth (vice-captain), 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 1 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Seabelo Senatla, 23 Juan de Jongh.
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Solomon Alaimalo, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Liam Messam, 4 Mitchell Brown, 5 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams, 23 Shaun Stevenson