JON CARDINELLI watched the Chiefs overturn a 17-point deficit to win 30-23 against the Stormers in Hamilton.
The Stormers lacked intensity in the second stanza, and the absence of killer instinct and composure cost them yet again. They led 20-3 at half-time after an impressive all-round display, but failed to put a sub-standard Chiefs side away.
The backs combined beautifully to unleash Gio Aplon in the 20th minute; the Stormers’ winger running a beautiful line and swerving past a series of tackle-attempts in his 50m surge for the tryline. The Stormers’ lineout was also in dominant mood, and a powerful maul set up a simple try for captain Schalk Burger.
Heading to the shed at 20-3 ahead, they would have been expected to ram the advantage home. Perhaps they were overconfident and expected to cruise in the last 40, as they were completely outplayed thereafter.
A controversial incident right after the break resulted in a dramatic swing in momentum. Centre Richard Kahui grubbered the ball in behind the Stormers and looked to have out-sprinted the cover defence before Aplon tugged on his jersey. Television replays suggested that the ball had bounced away from Kahui and so a try was not guaranteed, but the TMO saw the incident differently.
A penalty try was awarded and Aplon was yellow carded for the offence. It was a tough break for the visitors, but the manner in which they capitulated from there was a gross indictment on their composure and ultimately their ability to go all the way in this tournament.
The Chiefs struck again when Stephen Donald chipped the Stormers’ defence, and an unkind bounce wrong-footed Stormers fullback Conrad Jantjes. Sitiveni Sivivatu collected the ball and dotted down right under the posts, and Donald completed the goal with a well-taken conversion.
Aplon returned, but the damage was done. The Stormers battled to control possession, dropping the ball cold and struggling to kick their way out of their own half. They also continued to impede at the breakdown, and Donald, in a rare display of goal-kicking accuracy, made them pay.
The visitors spent a lot of time on defence, and were uncharacteristically generous in their tendency to slip first-time tackles. A number of senior players looked tired, and it was easily one of their flattest performances of the season. On the basis of their second half showing, they didn’t deserve to win.
There will be some gripes about the referee, but closer analysis will reveal that Stu Dickinson was consistent. The penalty try was a tough call, as was the ejection of Aplon, but the way that the Stormers responded was always going to be telling. They slumped to defeat and learned something about their composure, or lack thereof, in the process.