The Stormers avoided what would have been a shock defeat at the hands of the Sunwolves when they managed to claw their way to a 44-31 victory in Singapore.
It was an interesting game but in different ways.
The first half was fun - a lot of rugby fiesta, unstructured, colourful and entertaining, and the Sunwolves were better at that and led 24-20 at the break.
The second was interesting for a change of tactics. The ones who changed tactics, because they could, were the Stormers who switched from Cavaliers to Spartans. They still ran but this time in controlled conditions and in Sunwolves' territory and they got their defences structured. As a result, they took the lead after an hour and when the (official) siren sounded they had won 44-31.
The Stormers won on the scoreboard and in the brains trust but the Sunwolves won in the hearts of many with their brave, determined performance, the speed with which they played and their skill in playing at speed.
Their scrumming was excellent - unbudging throughout. They lost just one line-out - to two lost by the Stormers. But when it came to oldfashioned bashing the Sunwolves could not plug enough leaks in the defence. Five of the Stormers' six tries came after close bashing.
That said, the Stormers' other try, their first, was the try of the match, a thrilling combination of verve and teamwork. It started in their own 22 when Bjorn Basson gave to Leyds and the fullback set off on a deceptive, speedy run to set up a fast-advancing attack of skilled interpassing till EW Viljoen snatched up the ball and plunged over for an 80-metre try.
The venue has pros and cons. It is a magnificent stadium with a closed roof to keep out the day's rain and it has some cooling which may not be obvious in 27°C with humidity worse than Durban's. An oddity was a siren that wailed as in a World War II air-raid warning and apparently had nothing to do with the state of the game.
It was a home game for the Sunwolves. 5 300 km away from Tokyo, still nearer than it was for the Stormers who were 9 600 km away from home.
Throughout the half, fortunes changed with the blink of an eye. The Stormers kicked off but the Sunwolves came out of their territory and a penalty gave them a line-out on the Stormers' 22. The Stormers came back and mauled. The Sunwolves were penalised and Robert du Preez goaled. 3-0 after four hectic minutes.
Seabelo Senatla had two promising runs on the left wing but then the Sunwolves attacked, going left where Gerrie Brits did a switch with tall centre Derek Carpenter who scored under the posts. The "home" team led 7-3 after 6 minutes.
The match officials examined the tackle on Brits as he passed and sent Rynhardt Elstadt to the sin bin for a low but armless tackle.
From the kick-off the Sunwolves attacked down the right and got right to the Stormers' line. The Stormers won a turnover and Dewaldt Duvenage cleared. This happened again - attack, turnover and clearance, but the Stormers were penalised for what was said to be a deliberate knock on, and Jumpei Ogura made it 10-3.
Siya Kolisi broke, Leyds grubbered towards the line where Basson got the ball and then dropped it in in-goal for no apparent reason.
The Sunwolves survived a scrum five metres from their line and got clear when Ogura chipped a diagonal for right wing Shota Emi, which tells a tale of the spirit of the game at that time.
And then came Viljoen's try - a magnificent Stormers' try. 10-10 after 18 minutes.
The Stormers dropped a pass and the Sunwolves pounced on it. They went left, then wide right where Emi dived past Du Preez to score in the corner. Ogura converted from touch and the Sunwolves led 17-10 after 22 minutes.
They came back with many passes right and left and then veteran lock Sam Wykes burst through the middle and gave to his locking partner Liaki Moli who scored at the posts. The Sunwolves led 24-10 after 25 minutes. They deserved the lead, for they were sharper, harder, quicker and slicker.
The Stormers changed tactics to pick-'n-go. They got right to the line where Elstadt dived over fallen bodies to score. 24-17 after 35 minutes.
Just before half-time Du Preez kicked a long, angled penalty goal and the score was 24-20 at the break.
The Stormers had little chance to get their more structured tactics working. From a scrum, the Sunwolves went left and, when Basson did not trust Viljoen to tackle his man and came in to help, Fukuoka had an overlap and raced some 30 metres downfield. When Leyds challenged, Fukuoka passed inside to Carpenter who scored under the posts again. 31-20 after 43 minutes.
Now the Stormers started applying the slow poison that killed off the Sunwolves. They kept the ball close and made the Sunwolves tired and sore.
They bashed at the goal-line, Sikhumbuzo Notshe getting close twice and then big, strong, unemotional Wilco Louw planked the ball over the line for a try at the posts. 31-27 after 53 minutes.
From a scrum, the Stormers' went left to Senatla on an overlap. He passed inside to Dan du Plessis who gave to Du Preez who waded though defenders, ending in a try by Duvenage and, lo and behold, the Stormers' led 34-31 with 19 minutes to play.
Ollie Kebble, on for Louw, was sin-binned for a forceful high tackle, and later the Sunwolves had a chance to draw level but Ogura missed from in front of the posts.
For the rest the Stormers dominated the 19 minutes and only the tenacity of the Sunwolves' kept them out.
Mind you, they seemed to have scored when Du Preez chipped and Viljoen chased, caught and grounded. There may have been difficulties in understanding when the Argentinian referee and the Japanese TMO discussed the matter in English. But the upshot was that a try had not been scored.
Kaito Shigeno went to the sin bin, Kebble came back and the Stormers had two five-metre line-outs from penalties. The visitors' bashed at the home goal again and eventually energetic hooker Bongi Mbonambi scored. 39-31 with four minutes to play.
Back the Stormers came. Instead of a penalty they opted for a five-metre scrum. Kurt Coleman chipped to his right and Basson got the bouncing ball in in-goal and dotted town for the try that ended the match are 44-31.
Man of the match: There were candidates but our choice is a man who has excellent on attack and defence, a player with skill, vision and an instinctive understanding of the game - Dillyn Leyds. He gets the award ahead of the Stormers' half backs, Robert du Preez and Dewaldt Duvenage, and Bongi Mbonambi and ahead of Derek Carpenter and Kenki Fukuoka of the Sunwolves.
For the Sunwolves:
Tries: Carpenter 2, Emi, Moli
Cons: Ogura 4
For the Stormers:
Tries: Viljoen, Elstadt, Louw, Duvenage, Mbonambi, Basson
Cons: du Preez 4
Pens: du Preez 2
Yellow cards: Rynhardt Elstadt (Stormers, 6 - no arms tackle); Oliver Kebble (Stormers, 65 - high tackle); Kaito Shigeno (Sunwolves - 73 minutes - repeated infringement by his team)
Sunwolves: 15 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi, 14 Shota Emi, 13 Timothy Lafaele, 12 Derek Carpenter, 11 Kenki Fukuoka, 10 Jumpei Ogura, 9 Keisuke Uchida, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Shokei Kin, 6 Ed Quirk (captain), 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Heiichiro Ito, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Koki Yamamoto.
Replacements: 16 Atsushi Sakate, 17 Masataka Mikami, 18 Takuma Asahara, 19 Uwe Helu, 20 Shumei Matsuhashi, 21 Kaito Shigeno, 22 Hayden Cripps, 23 Ryohei Yamanaka.
Stormers: 15 Dillyn Leyds, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Seabelo Senatla, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 7 Siya Kolisi (captain), 6 Rynhardt Elstadt, 5 John Schickerling, 4 Chris van Zyl, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Jacobus Janse van Rensburg.
Replacements: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 Caylib Oosthuizen, 18 Oliver Kebble, 19 Jan de Klerk, 20 Cobus Wiese, 21 Godlen Masimla, 22 Kurt Coleman, 23 Dan du Plessis.
Referee: Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
Assistant referees: Shuhei Kubo (Japan), Aki Aso (Japan)
TMO: Minoru Fuji (Japan)
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