Blues hold off spirited Stormers
The Blues showed good composure to hold off a late rally from the Stormers and secure a hard-fought 18-17 victory in a tough encounter in Albany on Friday.
The Cape side scored the only two tries of the game through captain Jean de Villiers, but they were left to rue a number of missed opportunities as the boot of Blues flyhalf Chris Noakes punished them regularly.
The opening exchanges were tense as both teams looked for the territorial advantage with a range of kicks in the slippery conditions.
The Blues were first to strike when Noakes slotted an early penalty after De Kock Steenkamp failed to roll away in the tackle, and the Blues flyhalf was able to double that advantage soon afterwards when Dewaldt Duvenage went offside at the back of a scrum.
The Stormers were putting pressure on the Blues in the set-pieces, but they were let down by some wayward kicking which allowed the home side to gather some momentum in opposition territory.
The Stormers hit back when Joe Pietersen joined the line and made a clean break before unleashing Gio Aplon who was hauled down just short of the tryline by Rene Ranger.
The ball was worked out to Andries Bekker who came up just short of the line, but the Blues were offside so Pietersen was able to kick the easy penalty to make it 6-3.
That seemed to boost the visitors' confidence and they worked their way back into the Blues' 22 with some good driving play, but they battled to make it count on the scoreboard as the Blues first held out an attacking line-out drive before Pietersen missed a kick at goal.
Instead it was the Blues who would score next when Noakes kicked a third penalty to make it 9-3 at half-time, leaving the Stormers to consider a frustrating 40 minutes in which they failed to convert their dominance into a lead.
The Blues were able to extend their advantage to 12-3 at the start of the second half when Francis Saili was hit by a high tackle from Bekker.
The Stormers' frustration was compounded by a series of basic errors and they were punished further when Noakes slotted his fifth penalty to make it 15-3.
The Blues were clearly boosted by their encouraging start to the second half and started sending the ball wide to their dangerous outside backs.
Replacement hooker Quentin MacDonald came within inches of going over in the corner after a well-worked move at the front of the line-out, and although he could not ground it over the line the home side kept the pressure on.
The Stormers regrouped as they looked for a way back into the game, and launched a few trademark driving mauls, and although they were held out initially they were eventually rewarded when De Villiers bashed his way over for the opening try of the game.
The conversion from Pietersen brought the Stormers within striking distance at 15-10, which set the game up for a tense finish as the visitors looked to snatch a late victory.
However, another Noakes penalty stretched the lead to eight points, leaving the Stormers needing to score twice to secure an unlikely victory.
Despite being under serious pressure De Villiers produced a moment of brilliance, showing great strength to break a tackle in midfield before racing clear for the try which made it a one-point game with three minutes left on the clock.
The Stormers threw everything at the Blues as they hunted a famous win, but somehow the home side managed to hang on for over 20 phases to secure a tense victory.
Man of the match: The Blues loose forwards worked their socks off in an impressive performance, but the best player on the night weas Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers who scored the only tries in the match in a dominant display.
For the Blues:
Pens: Noakes 6
For the Stormers:
Tries: De Villiers 2
Cons: Pietersen 2
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (captain), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Lolagi Visinia.
Stormers: 15 Joe Pietersen, 14 Gio Aplon, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (captain), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Gary van Aswegen, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 De Kock Steenkamp, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Deon Fourie, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Scarra Ntubeni, 17 Pat Cilliers, 18 Eben Etzebeth, 19 Nizaam Carr, 20 Louis Schreuder, 21 Elton Jantjies, 22 Damian de Allende.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)