An 82nd-minute conversion by Brandon Thomson steered the Stormers to a 17-17 draw with the Sunwolves in Singapore on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Stormers will breathe a collective sigh of relief. If not for their fourth-quarter fightback, they may have lost the match and gone down in history as the first South African side to lose to the Sunwolves.
Indeed, that seemed a likely outcome right up until the final play of the game. The Stormers counter-attacked from deep, and got within inches of the Sunwolves' tryline. Replacement tighthead prop Vincent Koch bulldozed his way through several defenders to score a crucial try.
And yet it was left to Thomson, the replacement flyhalf, to spare the Stormers' blushes. The kick was taken from a handy position just to the left of the uprights, but Thomson still had to hold his nerve. The strike was good and the flags were raised. Incredibly, the Stormers had been spared a humiliating defeat and the Sunwolves had been denied a momentous victory.
Some might say that the Sunwolves deserved to win, that their outstanding defence and breakdown performance deserved to be acknowledged with a victory. For much of the game, the hosts succeeded in stifling the Stormers at the rucks and their defence was exceptional. At one point in the first half, the plucky Japanese side held out for 21 phases.
The Sunwolves led 14-3 at half-time and that scoreline was an accurate reflection of proceedings. The hosts did well to force a series of breakdown turnovers. Flyhalf Tusi Pisi converted scoring chances into points, and so the Stormers were forced to chase the game from an early stage.
The Sunwolves had a chance to land the knockout blow in the 46th minute when Akihito Yamada reached over to plant the ball on the tryline. The referee and touch judge agreed to award the try, and it was only after the replay was shown on the big screen that Paul Williams reversed the decision.
Had Pisi taken his conversion attempt before that replay, the initial decision would have stood. The Sunwolves may look back at that incident and regret it. The Stormers, of course, will count themselves fortunate.
The Sunwolves appeared to run out of steam as the contest progressed. They added just one penalty goal to their tally in the 49th minute, and Pisi missed a subsequent shot in the 54th.
The Stormers' desperation was patent in that final quarter. They lifted their effort at the collisions and breakdowns. They endeavoured to play the game deep in Sunwolves territory.
While they were guilty of a series of errors during this period, they did make a couple of significant breakthroughs. And, as the scoreline will confirm, this was enough to earn them a draw.
Pieter-Steph du Toit was outstanding for the Stormers during this period, and was instrumental in the first try scored by the visitors in the 60th minute. The Springbok lock was credited with the try, but also played a important role in setting and controlling the rolling maul.
The Sunwolves continued to fight, and may have held out for a great victory if not for a lapse right at the death. The Stormers seized the opportunity, and Cheslin Kolbe surged downfield. The Stormers fullback would have gone all the way to the tryline if not for a timely ankle tap by a Sunwolves player.
However, the Stormers managed to control possession in the subsequent phases, and the power of Koch from close range proved impossible to contain. Somehow, the Stormers managed to strike at the death and secure a draw despite a disappointing overall performance.
Sunwolves – Try: Akihito Yamada. Penalties: Tusi Pisi (4).
Stormers – Tries: Pieter-Steph du Toit, Vincent Koch. Conversions: Jean-Luc du Plessis, Brandon Thomson. Penalty: Du Plessis.
Sunwolves – 15 Riaan Viljoen, 14 Akihito Yamada, 13 Derek Carpenter, 12 Harumichi Tatekawa (c), 11 John Stewart, 10 Tusi Pisi, 9 Atsushi Hiwasa, 8 Ed Quirk, 7 Andrew Durutalo, 6 Liaki Moli, 5 Fa’ Atiga Lemalu, 4 Timothy Bond, 3 Shinnosuke Kakinaga, 2 Takeshi Kizu, 1 Masataka Mikami.
Subs: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Ziun Gu, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Yoshiya Hosoda, 20 Taiyo Ando, 21 Yuki Yatomi, 22 Yu Tamura, 23 Mifiposeti Paea.
Stormers – 15 Cheslin Kolbe, 14 Johnny Kotze, 13 Juan de Jongh (c), 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Kobus van Wyk, 10 Jean-Luc du Plessis, 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Siya Kolisi, 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Frans Malherbe (c), 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg.
Subs: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Oli Kebble, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 20 Schalk Burger, 21 Nic Groom, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Huw Jones.
Photo: Lionel Ng/Getty Images