The Western Stormers climbed to the top of the Super Rugby table on Friday after a workmanlike 27-17 victory over New Zealand visitors the Auckland Blues at Newlands.
It was the third consecutive home victory for the Cape Town franchise since the southern hemisphere provincial championship started last month and four points from a bye gives them 16 points just four rounds into the season.
That puts them level with the Otago Highlanders and two points ahead of the Waikato Chiefs, who were dramatic 29-22 home winners over the Australian Brumbies in the only other fixture on Friday.
Fullback Joe Pietersen kicked five penalties and a conversion from eight shots at goal, while Springboks backs Bryan Habana and Jean de Villiers crossed for tries.
Center Benson Stanley and prop Charlie Faumuina scored a try each for the Blues with flyhalf Gareth Anscombe converting both and fullback Lachie Munro slotting a penalty.
It was a game of three phases with the Stormers dominating the opening half in perfect cool, still early autumn conditions and building a 17-3 halftime advantage.
The Blues had vowed to win the game as a tribute to former All Blacks skipper Jock Hobbs, who died of cancer this week, and hit back after the break to cut the gap to just seven points with 15 minutes left.
However, the visitors, who beat the Northern Bulls in Pretoria last weekend by leading from start to finish, could not maintain the momentum and a Pietersen penalty was the lone score of the closing stages.
“Had the match carried on for another five minutes we could have been in trouble,” Stormers center, skipper and official man-of-the-match De Villiers said.
“Falling 21 points behind left us with too steep a mountain to climb. We have had lots of injury problems this season, but I trust the guys who have come in,” Blues captain and hooker Keven Mealamu said.
A couple of Pietersen penalties plus a Habana try after debutant wing Ben Lam was caught out by the bounce of a box kick gave the Stormers an 11-point lead before Munro narrowed the gap.
Pietersen kicked two more penalties before halftime as the Blues struggled at scrum time and when he converted De Villiers’ try the home team were sitting pretty with a 24-3 lead 12 minutes into the second half.
Back come the Blues with two converted tries, but hopes of a thrilling climax did not materialize and the Stormers, semi-finalists and runners-up in the past two championships, finished stronger.