Stormers 28-17 Edinburgh: Scottish pride intact but hosts prove too strong in Cape Town

In the shadow of Table Mountain Scottish involvement in the United Rugby Championship was ended as Edinburgh went down 28-17 to the Stormers.

Luke Crosbie of Edinburgh offloads the ball to Henry Pyrgos during the URC quarter-final defeat to Stormers in Cape Town. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images_
Luke Crosbie of Edinburgh offloads the ball to Henry Pyrgos during the URC quarter-final defeat to Stormers in Cape Town. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images_

Mike Blair’s side showed plenty of heart but they were ultimately undone by a South African side whose commitment to attacking rugby was the equal of their visitors and who, in Evan Roos, had the game’s outstanding player.

The No 8 notched the Stormers’ third and final try after a score at the start of each half from Warrick Gelant and Ruhan Nel put Edinburgh on the back foot. They responded impressively, with tries from Dave Cherry and the excellent Henry Pyrgos, but they couldn’t quite get close enough to their opponents.

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Emiliano Boffelli, the Edinburgh full-back, was outstanding in attack and defence and kicked both conversions and a penalty.

The Stormers will now host Ulster in the URC semi-final next Saturday but for Edinburgh the season is over. Blair’s maiden campaign has produced far more positives than negatives and there is much to build on.

After Glasgow Warriors’ abject display in Dublin against Leinster it was important that Edinburgh restored some pride for Scottish rugby and they certainly delivered on that front in Cape Town.

Unfortunately, they made the start they didn’t want. An early surge by Leolin Zas down the left wing took the Stormers into the opposition 22 and when the ball was recycled Hacjivah Dayimani made for the corner only to be tackled by Boffelli. Blair Kinghorn intercepted the Stormers man’s offload and tried to pop the ball back to Chris Dean but the ball went astray and Gelant pounced on it for the game’s opening score.

It was messy by Edinburgh and Manie Libbok’s conversion compounded the error, giving the Stormers an early 7-0 lead.

Henry Pyrgos of Edinburgh scores a try during the defeat to Stormers. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images_

The South African side had opted for a six-two forwards to backs split on the bench and the wisdom of this was called into question as early as the fourth minute when Rikus Pretorius was forced off with injury. The centre was replaced by debutant Sacha Mngomezulu, leaving Godlen Masimla as the one remaining back among the Stormers replacements.

These sides served up a thriller when they met at the DAM Health in October and it was more of the same at the Cape Town Stadium.

Edinburgh’s response to the early setback was immediate and impressive. They took the game to the Stormers and won a penalty close to the posts when Steven Kitshoff was off his feet at the ruck. Boffelli knocked it over to reduce the lead but Kitshoff quickly made amends at the other end, forcing Magnus Bradbury into conceding a penalty which Libbok despatched to restore the Stormers’ seven-point advantage.

Once again, Edinburgh reacted in a positive manner. Pyrgos had been praised to the hilt before the match by Mike Blair and the scrum-half’s cute kick up the left wing took them into the Stormers 22. Edinburgh won a penalty but on this occasion they opted to kick to the corner. The driving lineout maul has been a fruitful source of tries for Edinburgh this season and so it proved again. Grant Gilchrist secured the ball and Cherry was at the back of the train to score the try. Boffelli’s conversion from wide on the left was spot on, drawing Edinburgh level at 10-10.

Damien Hoyland of Edinburgh is tackled by Sacha Mngomezulu, Seabelo Senatla and Steven Kitshoff of the Stormers. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Both sides were committed to attack but Stormers had the lion’s share of possession and looked certain to score a second try when Gelant took a high ball impressively and bolted for the line only to be denied by a sensational tap tackle by Boffelli. Darcy Graham then appeared from nowhere to steal Gelant’s offload from Herschel Jantjies’ grasp.

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It was a stunning defensive effort from the two Edinburgh men but the visitors finished the half short-handed after Bradbury was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on Roos. The Edinburgh No 8’s shoulder went into the neck area of his opposite number and referee Frank Murphy opted for the yellow card after a consultation with TMO Ben Whitehouse.

Edinburgh got to the break without any further damage and would have been pleased to go in on level terms but they conceded a try after only four minutes of the second half.

It was an electric break by the Stormers, the ball played out the line to Deon Fourie who fed Seabelo Senatla. The winger played it back inside to Nel to run in the try which Libbok converted.

The home side were gaining a foothold and extended their lead on 50 minutes when Libbok landed a 41-metre penalty after Luke Crosbie failed to release the ball.

Worse was to follow when Roos notched the Stormers’ third try of the evening. It was messy again from an Edinburgh point of view, with players slipping and sliding as they tried to deal with Libbok’s kick through. The bounce of the ball caught out Kinghorn and Gelant took advantage. The full-back was tackled by Hamish Watson but the Edinburgh openside knocked the ball from Gelant’s hands and Roos was first to react, the try being awarded after a TMO check. Libbok missed the conversion from close range but the home side now led 25-10.

Edinburgh needed a swift response and Pyrgos obliged. A shoddy kick from Libbok gave possession to the visitors, with Boffelli capitalising. Pyrgos played the ball out to Kinghorn who shipped it on to Luke Crosbie. He made vital yards before playing in Pyrgos who stepped and finished with aplomb. The conversion reduced the Stormers’ lead to eight points and Edinburgh’s tails were up.

The pace was relentless but the hosts stood firm and edged further ahead with another three-pointer from Libbok after Pyrgos had been penalised. They now had an 11-point lead with 11 minutes remaining but Edinburgh continued to press and probe. Mark Bennett skipped past a couple of defenders but he couldn’t get to the line and when the Stormers won a huge turnover close to their posts the game was all but up for Edinburgh.

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