Ned Hanigan scored an 81st-minute try as the Waratahs claimed a thrilling 34-27 win over the Stormers in Sydney on Saturday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
The Stormers will look back at this result and wonder how on earth they managed to blow it. The game looked sure to end in a draw, but the Stormers lost a lineout late in the game to gift possession back to the Waratahs, with Hanigan eventually going over in the corner for the decisive score.
For much of the second half, it looked as if the Stormers would claim a crucial victory away from home, but they failed to take advantage of a dominant scrum, while a number of soft moments repeatedly let the Waratahs back in.
With the scores locked up at 17-17 at half-time, the Stormers continued to dominate completely at scrum time, but despite this ascendancy and a 10-minute period where they played against 13 men in the second half, they couldn’t make it count.
The Waratahs had opened the scoring with a penalty to Bernard Foley, but from the kickoff, the Stormers superbly won back possession, before some lovely handling from SP Marais and Raymond Rhule put Steven Kitshoff away for his first-ever Super Rugby try.
The hosts hit straight back, though, as Israel Folau displayed his prowess in the air as he rose above Damian Willemse to collect a contestable kick before dashing away to go over unopposed just before the quarter-hour mark.
Marais drew the scores level at 10-10 with a penalty in the 22nd minute, but a reckless piece of play from the Stormers fullback then gifted the Waratahs an attacking lineout, from which Michael Hooper burst away to score.
With the game being played in front of a poor crowd in Sydney, there was a tangible lack of atmosphere at the ground. This was also reflected in a largely flat performance from both teams as basic errors and poor handling contributed to an uninspiring opening half.
However, the Stormers had the final say of the first period when a lovely chip kick from Dewaldt Duvenage created a try for Kobus van Dyk in the corner, with the touchline conversion drawing the scores level again at the break.
During a half-time interview, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck rather aptly described the contest as a ‘dog fight’, while lamenting the fact that his side was allowing opportunities for the Waratahs through some soft moments.
His words proved prophetic as a couple of errors early on in the second stanza allowed the Waratahs possession, with hooker Damien Fitzpatrick eventually able to dot down in the corner, while the Stormers also saw young flyhalf Damian Willemse hobble from the field with an injury.
Fleck had also highlighted the Stormers’ increasing ascendancy up front, and it was from yet another dominant scrum that a platform was laid for SP Marais to go under the posts as the sides continued to trade blows.
A potentially decisive moment in the clash then saw Waratahs lock Rob Simmons yellow-carded for dangerous play in the lineout but, despite his absence, the game remained on a knife edge as Foley and Marais traded penalties.
It appeared as if the sides would eventually have to settle for a share of the spoils, but a dire error from the Stormers proved costly when it mattered most.
Waratahs – Tries: Israel Folau, Michael Hooper, Damien Fitzpatrick, Ned Hanigan. Conversions: Bernard Foley (4). Penalties: Foley (2).
Stormers – Tries: Steven Kitshoff, Kobus van Dyk, SP Marais. Conversions: SP Marais (3). Penalties: Marais (2).
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Andrew Kellaway, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Paddy Ryan, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Subs: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Nick Palmer, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Mitch Short, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Alex Newsome.
Stormers – 15 SP Marais, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 JD Schickerling, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Subs: 16 Dean Muir, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Chris van Zyl, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Justin Phillips, 22 George Whitehead, 23 EW Viljoen.
Photo: William Westaf/AFP/Getty Images