Harry Byrne of Leinster is tackled by Seabelo Senatla and Ruben van Heerden (Getty).
- The Stormers and Leinster played out to a fascinating 22-22 URC draw in Dublin on Friday.
- The visitors manufactured a 17-0 lead in the first half that they could not hold.
- Leinster had entered the match having won all 15 of their URC league fixtures this season.
The Stormers, the United Rugby Championship (URC) defending champions, battled their way to an intriguing 22-22 draw against high-flying Leinster in treacherous conditions at the RDS Arena in Dublin on Friday night.
It was a bitter-sweet result for the South Africans.
Leinster had won all 15 of their league matches this season to command top spot on the URC standings heading into this clash, which leaves the Stormers as the only side in the competition not to have been beaten by coach Leo Cullen’s charges.
Having manufactured a 17-0 lead, however, the Stormers looked poised to secure a massive win, but the Leinster machine grew stronger and more clinical as the game progressed.
By the end, Leinster – fielding a largely second-string team after Six Nations duty last weekend – were comfortably the better side, and the Stormers needed a late try from Clayton Blommetjies to secure a share of the spoils.
The Stormers, loaded with returning Springboks Steven Kitshoff, Frans Malherbe, Marvin Orie and Damian Willemse in their starting line-up, clearly wanted this one badly.
They were physical from the get-go, operating with precision and intent with ball in hand as they dominated the early exchanges.
Manie Libbok, after kicking the Stormers into an early 3-0 lead, capitalised on that momentum when he dazzled with a trademark dummy pass to his right before cutting inside to score the game’s first try on 20 minutes.
The visitors were 10-0 up, with the Dublin wind at their backs, looking every bit a championship outfit.
Leinster then got back into the contest through meticulous phase play, but when a pass went astray on 33 minutes, Libbok was again the playmaker as he pounced on the ball and set off from deep inside his own territory.
The Stormers No 10 did not have the pace to finish off the score himself, but he was composed in off-loading to right wing Suleiman Hartzenberg, who made no mistake.
Suddenly, the Stormers were 17-0 up.
Leinster are not considered the kings of the URC for nothing, though, and there was never any panic.
They struck just before half-time through loosehead prop Michael Milne following a sustained period of goal-line attack, and then immediately after the restart when flank Penny Scott went crashing over.
In a flash, Leinster had turned it into a 17-10 game – Harry Byrne was having no luck from the conversion tee – and the crowd started to rally behind their team.
A remarkable Stormers counter-attack from 95 meters that started from a Kitshoff steal at a lineout before Hacjivah Dayminai sprinted the length of the field was then stopped just short of the Leinster line, and when the hosts scored their third try (Rob Russell) shortly after that, they had all the momentum behind them.
The Stormers then lost Hartzenberg to an unfortunate yellow card on 59 minutes, and from the resulting penalty, they shipped their fourth try of the night as the Leinster machine kicked into overdrive.
That gave the hosts the lead for the first time in the match – they were 22-17 ahead – and the Stormers looked a little shell-shocked.
A stab through from Libbok, against the run of play, allowed Blommetjies in for the final try, which landed the Stormers the draw.
The result is likely to secure the Stormers second place on the URC table behind Leinster and, more importantly, home ground advantage in both the quarter-final and semi-final stages.
Leinster 22 (5)
Tries: Michael Milne, Scott Penny, Rob Russell, Max Deegan
Conversion: Harry Byrne
Stormers 22 (17)
Tries: Manie Libbok, Suleiman Hartzenberg, Clayton Blommetjies
Conversions: Libbok (2)