The team from Nelspruit, who led 37-14 at one stage, conceded three tries in the final 10 minutes to crash to the men from the Cape.
Springbok fullback Warrick Gelant scored a controversial 78th minute try to save the Stormers from a humiliating defeat as they edged out the Pumas 42-37 in their Super Rugby Unlocked match in Nelspruit on Friday night.
Gelant produced a fine finish, stepping inside to evade a tackler and then racing away to beat the cover-defence and score the try, but the pass he received from flyhalf Tim Swiel was “flat” enough to raise suspicions in even the most ardent Western Province fan. Referee Marius van der Westhuizen referred the decision to TMO AJ Jacobs and there was certainly enough evidence to rule out the try.
The Stormers were able to come back from a horror first half and they trailed 14-37 after 52 minutes, but they scored three tries in the last 10 minutes to steal the spoils.
The Pumas came with a simple and highly-effective game-plan by coach Jimmy Stonehouse but they were able to execute it perfectly in the first half as they raced into a 30-14 lead.
It was an epic effort by the Pumas, led by inside centre Wayne van der Bank, who took over the generalship duties after an injury to flyhalf Eddie Fouche, and the underdogs produced an outstanding display of clinical rugby to race into a 30-14 lead at the halftime break.
The Pumas were able to overcome an unfortunate blow five minutes into the second half when flank Jeandre Rudolph, an enormous figure in an asphyxiating display by the Pumas pack, was harshly yellow-carded by Van der Westhuizen after an innocuous jersey-pulling episode that saw Stormers scrumhalf Herschel Jantjies end up in the advertising boards.
It was Van der Bank who created an opportunity for an overwhelming 37-14 lead as he rounded off an armada of strong carries by breaking the gain-line and then producing a brilliant offload for wing Niel Maritz to score.
But it all served as an enormous wake-up call for the Stormers and tries from close range by replacement prop Neethling Fouche and hooker Bongi Mbonambi, followed by a classic backline try by wing Leolin Zas, brought them right back into the contest before an unfortunate end to the game for the plucky home side.
The Pumas may have lost, but what they clearly showed is that there is certainly an abundance of talent outside the big franchises and Stonehouse remains an extremely effective manipulator of that talent.
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