The under strength Blues produced a gallant second half comeback but left their run too late as they were defeated 27-17 by the Stormers in Cape Town this morning.
Trailing 24-3 early in the second half following a lacklustre opening stanza, the Blues finally discovered their attacking mojo and scored two well constructed tries to get within seven points of their opponents with a quarter of an hour remaining.
But the Stormers managed to hold the Blues out, with their impressive forward pack outmuscling them at the scrum to starve the visitors of any quality possession.
The Blues now return home to Auckland having won just one of their opening four matches to sit at the bottom of the New Zealand Conference on five points.
However there were some encouraging signs that the Blues may yet to be a force to be reckoned with as they stretched the Stormers and came close to scoring an unlikely win with an injury ravaged side.
Missing nine players due to suspension, injury and bereavement including Tony Woodcock, Anthony Boric, Jerome Kaino, Isaia Toeava, Rudi Wulf and Michael Hobbs, the Blues really challenged the unbeaten Stormers and showed plenty of promise.
However the core basics, the lineout and the scrum, were once again found desperately wanting and it will an area of real concern for Pat Lam as his side regroups to tackle the Hurricanes at Eden Park on Friday night.
As in their previous games, the Blues fell foul of the law early on as Stormers fullback Joe Pieterson made the most of the visitors’ indiscretions to give his side a 6-0 lead.
With winger David Raikuna a late withdrawal due to a hamstring injury, Wider Training Group player Ben Lam was called in for his Super Rugby debut and given the unenviable task of marking Bryan Habana.
The bounce of the ball can be a cruel thing as Ben Lam experienced first hand. Heading back to collect an innocuous chip over the top from Stormers halfback Dewaldt Duvenage, a lucky bounce saw the ball evade Lam’s grasp and fall straight into the arms of a flying Habana who was too strong and fast to cut down as he steamrolled his way to the tryline.
The Blues tried their hardest to break the Stormers’ defence but it was like running into a brick wall as they found few openings against the physically dominant forwards led by Duane Vermeulen and Andries Bekker.
The visitors instead made headway via the boot, with Lachie Munro slotting a penalty kick to get his side on the scoreboard after 28 minutes.
However two consecutive penalties to Pietersen saw the Stormers take a 17-3 lead into the sheds at halftime, a lead which blew out to 21 points early in the second spell when Jean de Villiers skipped out of a Luke Braid tackle to score.
Staring down the barrel of a convincing defeat in Cape Town, the Blues finally found their attacking spark and responded in emphatic fashion.
With Lam rolling on almost the entire reserves bench, the visitors sparked into life and took the game to the Stormers, with Alby Mathewson sniping and Ma’a Nonu getting more involved in the game.
Following some good phase play by the forwards who worked hard in tight, Ma’a Nonu hit Benson Stanley who ran a perfect line to beat two defenders and go over for the try.†
Eight minutes later the Blues were in again. Ben Lam took the ball to within metres of the try line from a five metre scrum, before bullocking prop Charlie Faumuina ran hard and straight to crash over for the try.
With just seven points separating the two sides with 15 minutes remaining, a famous comeback was on the cards for the Blues.
However they just couldn’t match the Stormers at scrum time as consecutive penalties saw the Blues lose possession and Pietersen slotted his fifth penalty kick of the night to ensure a Stormers victory.