The Gallagher Chiefs winning streak to start the season has ended with the Stormers coming out on top 34-26 in a highly entertaining match between two of Super Rugby’s form teams at Newlands in Cape Town.
Both sides were unbeaten heading into the contest, and the match up did not disappoint with plenty of running rugby on display as the Stormers claimed a four tries to three victory.
The tension between the two sides was clear right from the opening minutes, as a huge shoving match broke out early on to set the scene for a physical and competitive encounter.
From the resulting penalty the Stormers were quick to make their mark as they drove downfield with several strong runs and crossed the line for the opening try to Number 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, well converted out wide by first five Robert du Preez.
The Gallagher Chiefs responded with their high tempo attacking game and immediately looked threatening. A yellow card for the Stormers then made the task even more difficult for the home side.
A relentless wave of over a dozen phases saw the Gallagher Chiefs go close to scoring, but they had to settle for a penalty from the boot of first five Aaron Cruden to get their scoring underway.
From their own goal line the Gallagher Chiefs then produced one of the tries of the season so far, as outside backs James Lowe and Damian McKenzie sparked an attack that went through nine sets of hands before being finished off by wing Toni Pulu.
Cruden’s conversion put the Gallagher Chiefs in front 10-7 after a pulsating opening 15 minutes.
The action continued as the Stormers swung back onto attack and, after a patient build up, they cracked the Gallagher Chiefs defence once more with a pick and go try to loose forward Siya Kolisi. Robert du Preez converted to restore their four-point lead.
McKenzie narrowed the gap with a well struck penalty attempt from over 40 metres out, before the young fullback launched another attack from deep inside his own half. After splitting the defence up the middle he found an unmarked Pulu who crossed for his second of the afternoon in the right hand corner.
As the frantic pace of the match continued, Stormers fullback SP Marais slotted a penalty from halfway, and an attacking raid right on the stroke of halftime ended in a well worked try to du Preez. He converted his own try to give the Stormers a 24-18 lead at the break.
An early scrum penalty to start the second half saw Marais on target with his second penalty attempt, but the Gallagher Chiefs responded quickly with a three-pointer of their own from Cruden.
After conceding two long range tries in the first half, it was then the Stormers turn to produce some magic with a turnover on their own 22 leading to a chip kick ahead and a wonderful no look pass, and SP Marais ran clear to score.
With the Stormers’ lead now out to 13 points the Gallagher Chiefs needed to strike back quickly. Cruden turned down a kickable penalty and from the lineout the ball was swung wide and space was created for wing James Lowe to finish off.
Cruden’s conversion struck the upright but the try to Lowe had the Gallagher Chiefs right back into the match midway through the second half.
Some good ball control from the home side saw them keep possession for a long period, taking nearly 10 minutes off the clock, and the pace of the match began to take its toll with plenty of substitutes rolled out from both benches.
The Gallagher Chiefs found their second wind as the match moved into the final 10 minutes and went desperately close to adding their fourth try before a timely intercept just metres from their own line saved the Stormers.
More possession for the Chiefs saw them rumble downfield once more but again the Stormers defence was up to the task, stopping wave after wave of Chiefs attack as the clock wound down.
A breathtaking passage of play to close out the match, with the ball in play for four minutes, was again repelled by the hosts as the Stormers kept their unbeaten record intact and handed the Chiefs their first defeat of the season.
Gallagher Chiefs 26 (Toni Pulu 2, James Lowe tries; Aaron Cruden con, 2 pens, Damian McKenzie pen) Stormers 34 (Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Siya Kolisi, Robert du Preez, SP Marais tries; du Preez 4 cons, Marais 2 pens) HT: 18-24.
The Gallagher Chiefs now head to Bloemfontein to face the Cheetahs in their Round 8 match on Sunday 16 April (1.05am NZ time).