Stormers down Blues in tight contest

Replacement flyhalf Dewaldt Duvenage converted Schalk Burger’s last-minute try to give the Stormers a 28-26 win over the Auckland Blues in a Super Rugby clash on Friday.

The Stormers trailed 19-3 at halftime but scored three second-half tries, including Burger’s in the 79th minute, to end a two-match losing streak.

The match was almost the exact opposite of the Stormers’ last match against Waikato, when the Stormers led 20-3 at halftime but conceded three second-half tries to lose 30-23 to the Chiefs.

Stand-in centres Juan de Jongh and Johann Sadie combined for two tries in three minutes in the middle of the second half.

The win was of critical importance to the Stormers after their back-to-back losses to the Canterbury Crusaders and Chiefs. Those defeats saw their season-long lead in the South African conference placed under threat from the Sharks, who can still challenge for first place when they play the Bulls in Durban on Saturday.

But the Stormers gave themselves a measure of comfort — a five-point conference lead — with a rousing second-half rally in a match that seemed to have been lost through a torrent of errors in the first half.

The Cape Town-based side turned the ball over continuously by trying to play over-ambitious rugby in wet and slippery conditions. Their poor handling and lack of discipline allowed the Blues to take control of the match with a try to halfback Alby Mathewson and 14 first-half points to centre Luke McAlister.

McAlister surpassed 100 points for the season — becoming the first New Zealander to do so this year — with the second of his four penalties. He finished with 16 points for the match, enhancing his chances of a recall to the New Zealand team for this year’s World Cup.

Mathewson scored the only try of the first half and fullback Lachie Munro scored in the 67th minute after tries by De Jongh and Sadie cut the Blues’ lead from 19-3 at halftime to 19-18 midway through the second half.

Munro’s try gave the Blues the buffer of an eight-point lead with 13 minutes remaining but Duvenage reduced that with a 70th-minute penalty then decided the match with the conversion of Burger’s last-gasp try.

The win was a triumph for a Stormers team reduced in strength by injuries to first-choice flyhalf Peter Grant and centres Jean de Villiers and Jaque Fourie.

They suffered a further blow when they lost replacement flyhalf Lionel Cronje to a knee injury after 28 minutes. But Duvenage took Cronje’s place and made a vital contribution, kicking two conversions and two penalties from five shots at goal.

“It was important for us,” Burger said. “We were down and out. We lost numbers 10, 12 and 13 — experienced players — [to injuries] and after that first half, poor performance, we turned it around in the 79th minute. I think we took a lot of lessons out of last week and although we were down 16 points, I thought we had a lot of attacking opportunities.”

Blues captain Keven Mealamu became New Zealand’s most-capped Super Rugby player in a match his team could have marked with a win. Auckland were left with a record of nine wins from 13 games and with their lead in the New Zealand conference now under threat from the Canterbury Crusaders.

“They held on to the ball pretty well, they got down our end of the field and they were able to apply that pressure on us,” Mealamu said. “It was disappointing with those two tries in the middle of the second half. We just slipped off some simple tackles.”

Stormers 28 (Juan de Jongh, Johann Sadie, Schalk Burger tries; Lionel Cronje penalty; Dewaldt Duvenage two conversions, two penalties),
Auckland 26 (Alby Mathewson, Lachie Munro tries; Luke McAlister two conversions, four penalties). — Sapa-AP


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