The Stormers beat the Chiefs 34-26 in a thrilling game at Newlands in Cape Town, making it six wins in a row and they sit comfortably top of the Africa 1 Conference.
Robbie Fleck’s men out-scored the visitors, four tries to three, in one of the best Super Rugby matches played in the tournament’s history.
Toni Pulu scored a first-half brace but the Cape side took a six-point lead into the shed after a stunning first 40 minutes which saw Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Siya Kolisi and Robert du Preez cross the whitewash.
SP Marais extended the home team’s lead to 13 points – thanks to some brilliance by Dyllin Leyds. James Lowe pulled a try back for the visitors but it was not enough as the Stormers claimed the victory.
The Stormers were unbeaten going into this game but they had not faced any New Zealand teams. This would be a true test of their Super Rugby credentials.
The game started well for the home team when Notshe powered over from close range after some quick ball inside the visitors’ 22. Du Preez slotted the conversion; 7-0 and easy as you like.
However, it soon turned bad; Cobus Wiese was yellow carded for a silly off-the-ball incident and his team paid the price. Aaron Cruden kicked a penalty to reduce the deficit and then the Chiefs went up a few gears.
On 14 minutes, Pulu finished off one of the tries of the season. The ball changed hands between many players. The move started on the Chiefs’ 5-metre line when McKenzie gathered Du Preez’s kick.
The fullback beat Cheslin Kolbe, passed to Lowe, who danced through the Stormers after a give-and-go with McKenzie on the sideline. Lowe stormed past several defenders himself, linking with Anton Lienert-Brown.
The centre gave the ball to Liam Messam in support, the big man then played a one-two with Lowe before Pulu rounded the move off. Stunning.
The move went McKenzie-Lowe-McKenzie-Lowe-Lienert-Brown-Messam-Lowe-Messam-Pulu; nine pairs of hands between five players, all inside the tramlines of the 15-metre and touchline. Wow!
The Stormers hit back through their skipper Kolisi. The Bok loose forward was outstanding, adding over a dozen tackles and several turnovers to his try.
The hosts had a scrum and went through 14 phases before the Kolisi barged over. Nearly the entire team touched the ball in the build up. Du Preez’s conversion made it 14-10
McKenzie kicked a long-range penalty to make it a one-point game before Pulu’s second.
It was the fullback who started the move deep inside his half after another poor clearance, this time from Dewaldt Duvenage, saw Pulu gather and give the pass to the fullback.
McKenzie went across the field, straightened, and ghosted through a big hole in midfield, took the ball near the 22 and flung a wide pass to the supporting Pulu. Magic. Cruden missed from the sideline.
Marais’s long penalty brought the Stormers to within a point with three minutes to the break. Then bang.
The Stormers won a scrum after being held up on the Chiefs’ goal-line.
The forwards pushed the Chiefs backwards with a massive shove, Duvenage sent the ball to the open side and Du Preez, on the run, cut inside and with two defenders hanging to his coat-tails, managed to dot down.
His third conversion, after the hooter, sent his side into the shed with a small lead but, lots of confidence.
Marais and Cruden traded penalties to make it 27-21 after 47 minutes. Then, the moment of the match.
The Kiwis were camped inside the Stormers’ 22 and after some phases, sent the ball wide, however, Kolbe, anticipating Stephen Donald’s pass, intercepted and kicked forward as he was tackled.
Leyds chased, gathered and was ankle-tapped by McKenzie. From the floor, the winger made an outrageous no-look, out the backdoor reverse pass to the supporting Marais who coasted in untouched. Sensational.
Du Preez added the extras to give the Stormers a commanding lead going into the final quarter.
But the men from Waikato are never out of the game and they had still had some magic of their own left in the tank.
After winning a penalty and kicking to touch, the visitors went through some phases, setting up their backline.
From under the posts, Tawera Kerr-Barlow passed to the openside, Lienert-Brown drew the defenders and puts Lowe away in the corner. Cruden could not add the two points from the touchline.
Peculiarly, that would be the last scoring play of the game as the final 22 minutes were rendered scoreless.
It was not for want of trying, either. The Chiefs chased the game and came close on a few occasions but could finish.
An extraordinary passage of play, at the death of a pulsating game, took place. The ball was turned over multiple times and did not go dead for nearly five minutes.
Eventually, after the Chiefs had kicked the ball out, the hooter sounded and Justin Phillips booted the ball into the stands. What a game, one of the best you will see.
Final score: Stormers 34 (24) Chiefs 26 (18)
Tries – Notshe, Kolisi, Du Preez, SP Marais
Pen – Marais (2)
Con – Du Preez (4)
Cards – Yellow (Wiese, 7th minute)
Tries – Pulu (2), Lowe
Pen – Cruden (2), McKenzie
Con – Cruden
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Ref 1: Jaco van Heerden
Assistant Ref 2: Cwengile Jadezweni
TMO: Shaun Veldsman
15 Sarel Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Dan du Plessis, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Siya Kolisi (captain), 6 Cobus Wiese, 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Frans Malherbe, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Nizaam Carr, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Dan Kriel.
15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Stephen Donald, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Atu Moli, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Sosefo Kautai**, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Mitchell Brown, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Sam McNicol, 23 Shaun Stevenson.
**denotes Super Rugby debut