Ulster’s seven-game winning run game ended in controversial circumstances in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon.
The Northern Provinces were 14-0 down after just six minutes but thought a late try from Callum Reid had brought them back to win the game, only to see the potential winner ticked off for a knock-on .
Ulster was outraged by skipper Alan O’Connor in a lengthy argument with Italian referee Gianluca Gnecchi, arguing first that there was no separation between Reid’s hand and the ball in grounding, and then that Stormers’ flanker Hacjivah Dayimani was the one was who nudged the ball ball forward.
There was a lengthy deliberation between the umpire and his TMO before the Stormers were awarded a five-yard scrum.
Despite late controversy and earning a lost bonus point, Ulster had to regret a terrible start and a string of missed chances in the second half.
It was just two minutes on the clock when Stomers demonstrated his counterattacking power for the first time. Ulster had gone through nine stages when Billy Burns hoisted the ball in the air. Craig Gilroy rose to the challenge but didn’t get there and a moment later the visitors were under their own post despite the early ball.
Full-back Warrick Gelant set off the move with a skillful offload from the tackle, and Leolin Zas broke a tackle to canter into the open field. With Paul de Wet at his side, the Scrum half passed untouched.
And no sooner had Ulster rallied than they were 14-0 down. Stormers were delighted with the penalty and it was from a penalty taken to a corner that they scored their second.
Some of the heavy artillery had an attack on the line, only to be stopped short, but when the Stormers got a quick ball from a Steven Kitshoff carry, they moved it sharply through Gelant and Manie Libbok’s hands, allowing Leolin Zas the rewards could reap overlap.
While Mike Lowry was a bright spark in the Ulster backline, the Maul always seemed their best chance of gaining a foothold in the game and after two previous rumbles were stopped at the line, once illegally, it was the mainstay Marty Moore who burst in despite Kitshoff and Evan Roos standing in his way.
A Libbok penalty restored his side to a two-point lead before the half-hour mark, although that shot was soon canceled out by a similar performance from John Cooney.
And while the return of Frans Malherbe from Springbok had been much discussed in the build-up, the first scrum penalty of the day went in favor of Ulster, allowing Cooney to make it a four-point game. This time, however, it was the Stormers who responded immediately, Libbock’s second penalty of the day making it 20-13 at half-time.
Emerging from the turn, Ulster looked more likely to score next but were frustrated in their early efforts.
A fumble from Ulster ended a promising attack before the Stormers’ scrum came up big with Neethling Fouch for Malherbe after a knock-on in their goal area gave Ulster a five-yard scrum.
Ultimately, it was the Stormers who were the first to put the scoreboard in trouble in the second half, as Libbok penalized an offside with another three points.
But crucially, Ulster bagged the next try. Stuart McCloskey, after a key turnover forced by former Stormer Duane Vermeulen, came off easily parrying Stormers’ tackles as Rob Herring fed the ball.
Whether it was a Steven Kitshoff turnover in the Maul or Seabelo Senatla coming over the ball, Stormers lived dangerously but continued to develop plays at key points.
The biggest play of all came with two minutes remaining when backup rear rower Hacjivah Dayimani stepped on Callum Reid to smash the ball loose as the young front rower swooped onto the line. Ulster thought they had the score but much to their chagrin the TMO stepped in to write off the score.
O’Connor would get up to steal the lineup from the ensuing penalty to give Ulster another try but they failed to get the required score for the length of the field.
DHL striker: 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
replacement: 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
replacement: 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)
Referee: Gianluca Gnecchi
https://www.independent.ie/sport/rugby/pro14/controversy-at-the-death-as-ulster-are-turned-over-by-the-stormers-in-south-africa-41490181.html Dispute over death as Ulster is turned around by Stormers in South Africa