The Blues weathered a furious fightback by the Stormers to win a Super Rugby cliffhanger 18-17 in Auckland and cement their place in the southern hemisphere competition’s top six yesterday.
Flyhalf Chris Noakes scored all of the hosts’ points at North Harbour Stadium with six straight penalty kicks, but the match was nearly stolen by an inspirational two-try effort by Stormers captain Jean de Villiers.
With the visitors trailing 15-3 in the final quarter, De Villiers willed his team back into the contest with a 65th minute try and another with three minutes left on the clock.
Joe Pietersen’s second conversion made it a one-point ball game, but the Blues were composure personified in a frantic four minutes after the siren, withstanding a more-than-20 phase assault in their territory as the Stormers searched in vain for a winning penalty kick.
It was the South Africans who ultimately crumbled under the pressure, as Pietersen miscued a speculative drop goal attempt from long range to surrender the match.
The win was the Blues’ fifth from nine games midway through the season and keeps the pressure on the defending champion Chiefs in the New Zealand conference.
The Stormers were left to rue a sloppy first half in which indiscipline cost them a 9-3 lead at the break and poor kicking cost them a number of scoring chances.
After Noakes slotted two penalty goals in the opening quarter, Stormers lock Andries Bekker failed to plant the ball over the line at the end of a promising drive in the 19th minute.
Barring a penalty goal from point-blank range, Pietersen’s normally dependable boot deserted him, and the Stormers waved away two chances to kick for points.
They came away empty-handed both times after being frustrated by a dogged Blues defense and a Pietersen kick that failed to clear the touch-line.
In between, Pietersen missed a penalty goal from straight in front and watched as Noakes kicked his third six minutes before halftime.
The flyhalf made it five-from-five with another two penalty goals early after the break, and the Stormers appeared destined to slump to an insipid loss before De Villiers’ inspired finish.
The Stormers captain offloaded to Juan de Jongh who was brought down just short of the line, but De Villiers collected the ball back and barged through a clutch of defenders for his first try.
He ratcheted up the pressure again by shrugging off a tackle and bolting 40m to the line to score his second, but the Blues held on grimly to secure the points.
REBELS V CHIEFS
Reuters, MELBOURNE, Australia
Gareth Anscombe scored a hat-trick of tries as the fast-starting Chiefs prevailed 39-33 over the Melbourne Rebels yesterday.
The Chiefs fullback caught fire in the first half at Melbourne’s Rectangular Stadium, securing a bonus point for the visitors in the 27th minute with his third try, and finishing a 24-point game with three conversions and a penalty.
Inspired by backs James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale, the Rebels pulled within a converted try with five minutes left, but the Chiefs held on to retain top spot in the New Zealand conference.
Anscombe was denied a magical fourth try in the 78th minute by the television match official, who ruled the ball had been pushed forward by a teammate just before the fullback received it wide and bolted for the left corner.
The Chiefs took a 24-14 lead at halftime, with Anscombe scoring his first try in the opening minute and inside center Bundee Aki making it 10-0 in the 10th.
Scott Higginbotham put the Rebels on the board with a try five minutes later, but Anscombe scored two tries in seven minutes.
The Rebels were kept in the game by Hugh Pyle, who scored the first of a brace of tries shortly before halftime, but the Chiefs went 31-14 ahead 12 minutes after the break with a try by Sam Cane.
Beale came off the bench early in the second half, making his return from a six-week exile after he was stood down for punching two teammates on the team bus.
Beale helped set up scrumhalf Nick Phipps for a 68th minute try in the left corner with a brilliant break at midfield.
Brodie Retallick pushed the Chiefs’ lead out to 39-26 by scoring a try with 10 minutes left.
That set up a grandstand finish as Beale tore through the Chiefs defense to score a brilliant individual try in the 75th minute.