The Stormers won back their Super Rugby play-off’s dignity in taking the Chiefs to the wire at Newlands.
The Stormers lost 17-11 but trailed by just point with less than 10 minutes to go. Who knows how different the outcome would have been but for a penalty goal miss to take the lead with six minutes left.
It was a one point game for most of the latter part of the second half and the Stormers, who a year ago, lost 60-21 to the Chiefs at Newlands in a quarter-final confirmed the radical progress in the last 12 months.
This was play-off rugby at its most intense. Two of the competition’s most attacking and celebrated teams relied on defence and field position to edge the other. The Chiefs, who lead 9-3 at halftime, on balance were probably that one score better on the night but had the Stormers somehow won it would have been equally deserving.
Both teams scored the one try each but Damian McKenzie’s goal kicking proved decisive.
The Chiefs travel to Christchurch to play the Crusaders in the semi-final and the Stormers, ambitious to the end, may actually be grateful that they aren’t making the trip back to New Zealand.
This season was about progress and earning respect and redemption . The Stormers did this in beating the Chiefs and Blues at Newlands in the regular and season and coming so close to victory in Saturday’s play-off.
There is never celebration in defeat but there certainly is honour in the Stormers performance of 2017, as opposed to the humiliation of last year’s 60-21.