Death controversy as Ulster returned by Stormers to South Africa
Ulster’s seven-game winning streak ended in controversial circumstances in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon.
Northern Province trailed 14-0 after just six minutes but thought they had come back to win the game thanks to a late try from Callum Reid only to see the potentially game-winning scoreline erased by a ricochet.
Ulster were furious with skipper Alan O’Connor in a lengthy argument with Italian referee Gianluca Gnecchi, first arguing that there was no separation between Reid’s hand and the ball in the grounding, then that Stormers flanker Hacjivah Dayimani had been the one to push the ball forward.
There was a lengthy consultation between the referee and his TMO before the Stormers were awarded a five-yard scrum.
Despite the late controversy and securing a losing bonus point, Ulster had to bemoan a poor start and a number of missed chances in the second half.
There were just two minutes left on the clock when Stomers demonstrated his threat on the counterattack. Ulster had gone through nine phases when Billy Burns hoisted the ball into the air. Craig Gilroy got up to challenge but couldn’t make it and a moment later, despite all the early balls, the visitors were under their own posts.
Full-back Warrick Gelant sparked the move with a clever offload from the tackle and Leolin Zas broke a tackle to go galloping across open ground. With Paul de Wet in support, the scrum-half went unnoticed.
And no sooner had Ulster rallied than they trailed 14-0. The Stormers were delighted with the breakdown and it was on a penalty kick in the corner that they scored their second.
Some of the heavy artillery had a charge down the line to be stopped short, but when the Stormers got a fastball from a carry from Steven Kitshoff they moved it sharply into the hands of Gelant and Manie Libbok to that Leolin Zas reaps the rewards of riding it.
While Mike Lowry was a bright spark in Ulster’s back line, the maul always looked to be their biggest chance to gain a foothold in the game and after two previous rumbles down the line were stopped, once illegally, it was the Marty Moore prop. who broke in despite Kitshoff and Evan Roos being in his way.
A penalty from Libbok restored his side to a two-point advantage as the half-hour approached, although that kick was quickly canceled with a similar effort from John Cooney.
And while the return of tight Springbok header Frans Malherbe had been much discussed in the build-up, the first scrum penalty of the day went Ulster’s way allowing Cooney to make it a game away. four points. This time, however, it was the Stormers who would respond in kind immediately, with Libbock’s second penalty of the day making it 20-13 at halftime.
Ulster emerged from the corner looking most likely to score next but were frustrated in their early efforts.
An Ulster fumble ended a promising forward attack, with Neethling Fouch in place of Malherbe, the Stormers scrum came on strong after a forward in their end zone offered the ‘Ulster a five yard scrum.
In the end, it was the Stormers who first troubled the scoreboard in the second half, with Libbok punishing an offside with three points still to go.
But above all, Ulster passed the next try. While coming off a key turnover forced by former Stormer Duane Vermeulen, Stuart McCloskey did light work to fend off Stormers tackles when he received the ball from Rob Herring.
Whether it was a Steven Kitshoff turnover at the maul or Seabelo Senatla recovering from the ball, the Stormers lived dangerously but continued to put up plays at key points.
The biggest play of all came just two minutes from time when substitute rower Hacjivah Dayimani walked in on Callum Reid to drop the ball just as the young front rower took a dive for the line. Ulster thought they had the score but, to their chagrin, TMO stepped in to score the score.
O’Connor rose to steal the lineout from the next penalty to give Ulster one more try, but they couldn’t get the required length of field score.
DHL Stormers: Warrick Gelant, Seabelo Senatla, Ruhan Nel, Damian Willemse, Leolin Zas, Manie Libbok, Paul de Wet, Steven Kitshoff (CAPT), Chad Solomon, Frans Malherbe, Adre Smith, Marvin Orie, Deon Fourie, Ernst van Rhyn, Evan Roos
Substitutes: JJ Kotze (for Solomon, 58), Brok Harris (for Kitshoff, 64), Neethling Fouche (for Malherbe, 43), Connor Evans, Hacjivah Dayimani (van Rhyn, 53), Junior Pokomela (for Fourie, 55), Herschel Jantjies (for de Wet, 58), Rikus Pretorius (for Willemse, 70)
Ulster: Mike Lowry, Craig Gilroy, Stewart Moore, Stuart McCloskey, Rob Lyttle, Billy Burns, John Cooney, Eric O’Sullivan, Rob Herring, Marty Moore, Alan O’Connor (CAPT), Kieran Treadwell, Greg Jones, Marcus Rea, Duane Vermeulen
Substitutes: Tom Stewart (for Herring, 69), Callum Reid (for O’Sullivan, 55), Gareth Milasinovich (for M Moore, 55), Mick Kearney (for Treadwell, 75), Jordi Murphy (for Jones, 19), David Shanahan (for Cooney, 75), Luke Marshall (for S Moore, 64), Ethan McIlroy (for Gilroy, 51)
Arbitrator: Gianluca Gnecchi