Ulster saw their hopes of a home final in the United Rugby Championship come to an end as the Ulstermen lost 17-15 away at the Stormers.
The visitors were on the verge of victory, but a last ditch try from Warrick Gelant and a late conversion from Manie Libbok earning the Stormers victory in what was a nail-biter at Newlands Stadium.
It was a gut-wrenching defeat for the visitors, who had defended valiantly for 80 minutes but couldn’t hold on at the death. Tiredness crept into the visitors game late into the afternoon in Cape Town, but Ulster fought bravely and repelled the hosts on two occasions late on, but Gelant’s score ended all hopes of a second league final in three seasons.
As for the visitors, they host the Bulls next weekend at the Newlands in the final. However, their win came at a price as they lost influential winger Leolin Zas to injury in the first half and saw second-row Adre Smith red-carded for an eye gouge on Iain Henderson.
Like the previous meeting between the two sides the Stormers started quickly and scored within the opening five minutes as JJ Kotze powered over from the back of a driving maul.
It didn’t take long for John Dobson’s side to increase their advantage as Evan Roos raced in for the Stormers second of the afternoon.
However, Ulster responded emphatically as Robert Baloucoune crashed over in the corner to reduce the deficit to five. Dan McFarland’s men looked to have found their groove as they grabbed their second not long after. A great offload from Baloucoune released Stewart Moore for the team’s second of the match. John Cooney’s conversion put Ulster into their first lead of the day.
Cooney stretched out the lead further as he slotted over a penalty just before the break. Kicking appeared to be the difference in the first half as Libbok missed two conversions and a drop goal, leaving seven points on the table.
Ulster started the second period well, but suffered a massive blow as Baloucoune exited with a hip injury and began to toil in attack. McFarland’s team wasted two driving mauls deep inside the Stormers 22 and conceded two turnovers in a prime attacking position.
Nevertheless, all hope looked to have evaporated as Smith was red-carded for his gouge on Henderson, leaving the visitors with a numerical advantage in the final ten minutes.
However, it mattered not as the Stormers dominated possession and after several phases found the whitewash through the Racing 92 bound Gellant before Libbok iced the game with his first points of the match.
While Leinster proved the dominating team through the first half, two yellow cards proved their downfall and it was Stormers who got the win away in Cape Town.
Stormers started the game off strong, making a break just 30 seconds in courtesy of the backline. Ruhan Nel got the offload from Gelant and went over the line but an obstruction from the eager Stormers meant the try was disallowed.
Leinster picked up the pace from the restart, winning the set piece after a good kick from Cormac Foley. A flat pass out to Frawley and through the hands of Russell saw Leinster inside Stormers 22’.
A series of penalties from the Stormers side dominate play in the first half, with the experienced Stormers getting caught in the scrum three times before the 20 minute mark. Despite the penalties slowing play, the Stormers got the first points on the board with a penalty kick by Libbok at fifteen minutes in.
A chase from the home team on the restart saw a chance turned down by a hit from Ruddock. Stormers offside marked another penalty for the Leinster side which saw Frawley match Stormers 3 points. Another chance for Ruddock had little Leinster options for the offload but saw the visitors get inside the 22’ once again.
Good set piece from Leinster once again saw a penalty for Leo Cullen’s side, which put them on top at six points to three . The dominating Leinster side saw quick hands from Scott Penny on the restart and the pack brought it up once again into the 22’.
Leinster called stormers bluff on the lineout but the resulting break of play resulted in a penalty against Clarkson in the scrum. First half finishing score of 6- 3 to the Leinster side proved impressive against the experienced Stormers.
Libbok fund a good field potion for the scrum on the restart which saw another breakdown from the Leinster side. The resulting yellow card saw McKee in the sinbin leaving them with 14 players. Devett and Ruis took full advantage of Leisters man down bringing it straight into the 22’.
Gelant got the ball over the line followed shortly by a chance for Ruis. Dunne and foley done well to held up a series of chances for the Stormers but Senatla got the ball over at the 53 minute mark, against the 14 manned Leinster.
Leinster done well to double back on tackles and as McKee made his way back on to the pitch Byrne was rewarded with a try for Leinsters efforts. Quick hands off the set piece saw Leinster capitalise on the return of McKee and they done well to hold up the powerful Stormers.
While Stormers took the win at 20-13, the lack of bonus point will prove significant for the Leinster side, who will look to continue their place at top of the table.
A controversial ending at DHL Stadium saw Ulster slip to a 23-20 defeat to the DHL Stormers in the first game of their South African tour as Callum Reid saw a late game-winning try ruled out by the TMO.
Dan McFarland's side had battled back superbly from conceding two tries in the opening six minutes to put themselves in a position to win the game, and they thought they had done so when replacement prop Reid dived over the line.
However, the TMO intervened to point out a knock-on as he grounded the ball and, despite the appeals of captain Alan O'Connor, the decision stood and the South Africans held out for a narrow victory.
Ulster had their chances to win the game, particularly in the second half, however instead they lost their first game in eight outings and missed the chance to go top of the United Rugby Championship, instead settling for a losing bonus point.
After the first six minutes they would have taken that as their start couldn't have been much worse as they found themselves two tries down.
Scrum-half Paul de Wet started it off when he finished a lightning quick counter-attack started by Warrick Gelant and Leolin Zas, before Zas himself got in on the scoring when he was set over by Manie Libbok after a period of pressure in the Ulster 22.
The visitors struck back, though, as they finally got their driving maul working and Marty Moore crashed over from close range to get them on the board, although Libbok would send over a penalty to take the lead beyond a score.
John Cooney responded with two penalties of his own, although Libbok would take the lead to seven at the break with another penalty on the stroke of half-time.
The South African fly-half would add another kick shortly after the restart, but Stuart McCloskey showed incredible power to burst over the line, bumping off Libbok to go under the posts for what would prove to be the final score.
Rob Lyttle had a chance to go over in the corner but was held just short, and then Reid thought he had won it with just two minutes to go only for the TMO to step in and dash their celebrations.