Chiefs backlash stuns Stormers
Hamilton - The Waikato Chiefs rallied from 20-3 down at halftime, scoring three second-half tries, to beat South Africa's Stormers 30-23 in Super 15 rugby on Saturday.
Stormers winger Gio Aplon was both hero and villain, scoring a brilliant first-half try - possibly the best of the season - to help build an imposing first-half lead, then conceding a penalty try to spark the Chiefs' concerted comeback in the second half.
Aplon scored a modern rarity, a try from a set piece, in the 18th minute. He received the ball from a scrum on halfway and weaved through the tackles of All Blacks Brendon Leonard and Mils Muliaina for the first of the Stormers' two tries.
But his clumsy body check on All Blacks center Richard Kahui in the third minute of the second half gave up a penalty try, earned 10 minutes in the sin-bin, and led to a three-try, 27-point turnaround for the Chiefs.
The Cape Town-based Stormers have fashioned the best defensive record in the tournament this season, conceding only 49 points in the second halves of their 10 previous matches. But they conceded 27 points in the second half on Saturday to slip to their third loss from 11 games, their second in succession after last week's home loss to the Canterbury Crusaders.
Their lead in the South African conference is now under severe threat from the Durban-based Sharks.
The Stormers seemed to have the game in safekeeping when they forged a 20-3 lead in a dominant first half. Aplon's brilliant solo try gave them a 13-3 lead midway through the half and they added a try to captain Schalk Burger to take a 17-point lead into halftime.
Flyhalf Peter Grant returned from a lengthy injury layoff to resume his prolific points-scoring. He was the first player in the tournament to reach 100 points this season and he picked up where he left off with two penalties and two conversions in the first half.
Though Grant kept a clean sheet on Saturday, kicking five goals from five attempts, he was able to add only one second-half penalty which provided his team's only points after halftime.
The Chiefs' fading hopes of winning the match were revived when they were awarded a penalty try in the third minute of the second half. All Blacks center Richard Kahui pursued a kick into the Stormers in-goal area and Aplon snatched at his jersey in a neck-and-neck race for possession.
Australian referee Stuart Dickinson consulted the video referee before deciding Aplon's check on Kahui merited a penalty try. He also sin-binned Aplon and, in the winger's absence, All Blacks winger Sitiveni Sivivatu scored a second try for the Chiefs which cut the lead to 20-17.
Flyhalf Stephen Donald, who put through the kick from which Sivivatu scored, added a penalty in the 52nd minute which tied the scores and, after Grant had kicked the Stormers to a 23-20 lead, put the Chiefs ahead with a penalty and the conversion of Liam Messam's 59th-minute try.
Chiefs captain Mils Muliaina celebrated his 100th Super rugby game with his team's fifth win from 12 games, keeping their slim playoffs chances alive.
"We had a patch there in the first half, 10 minutes or so, where they really fired on points but to our credit we came out we came out, we wanted to finish well and I'm absolutely stoked," Muliaina said.
"Once we felt we could get that little bit of parity we felt things started coming our way. A couple of opportunist tries but, hey, you take those."
The Stormers next face the Auckland Blues as they attempt to turn around two straight losses.
"The first half was what we planned all week and the second half was pretty disgusting really," captain Burger said.
"We didn't have our hands on the ball, we couldn't keep it through phases and two breakaway tries put us under pressure. We just couldn't recover from that."
Chiefs: Tries - Sitiveni Sivivatu, Liam Messam, penalty try. Conversions - Stephen Donald (3). Penalty - Stephen Donald (3).
DHL Stormers: Tries - Gio Aplon, Schalk Burger. Conversions - Peter Grant (2). Penalties - Grant (3).
Chiefs - 15 Mils Muliaina (c), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Dwayne Sweeney, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard: 8 Fritz Lee, 7 Liam Messam, 6 Taiasina Tuifua, 5 Romana Graham, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Ben Afeaki, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith.
Subs: 16 Aled de Malmanche, 17 Sona Taumalolo, 18 Isaac Ross, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 21 Tim Nanai-Williams, 22 Jackson Willison.
Stormers – 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Jean De Villiers, 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger (c), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Rynhardt Elstadt, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Wicus Blaauw
Subs: 16 Tiaan Liebenberg, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 De Kock Steenkamp, 19 Anton Van Zyl, 20 Dewaldt Duvenage, 21 Lionel Cronje, 22 Juan De Jongh.