The Waratahs braved the ferocity of a Cape Town winter to hold the Stormers to a 13-13 draw on Saturday, leaving the race for semi-final spots wide open.
In fact, any one of five teams could mathematically still get a home semi-final after the result, which leaves the Waratahs and the Hurricanes in prime position for the home berth, and the Sharks, Stormers, Chiefs, and Blues scrapping it out for fourth and the right to visit the Crusaders.
With the Sharks hosting the Chiefs and the Blues hosting the Hurricanes, it is set to be a thrilling final weekend indeed!
The Cape winter came and ruined what ought to have been an epic contest. It bucketed down with rain, enough to cause puddles on the pitch, and the wind blew like a witch's breath from the north-west.
It was epic in a way: it was nerve-janglingly close to the death. But neither team was able to get their game truly going, in the conditions, neither team could or should have risked it.
The Waratahs ran the ball more, and paid the price. not only did the rain pour scorn on their ambition, but the Stormers' defence was terrific against the bogged-down attack. The Stormers played a far more sensible territorial game, with both Peter Grant and Conrad Jantjes terrorising the Waratahs back three with the boot. Grant's display was particularly mature, and could well have earned him a slot in the Springbok squad for June. Jantjes would be unlucky not to be there as well.
It was, by and large, the new rules that stopped the Stormers grabbing a more decisive win. Five times in the first half they were penalised for offences relating to the follow-up of kicks and the new offside lines at a tackle. Kurtley Beale landed one of the penalties through the posts in the first minute, and a second after half an hour.
In between, the Stormers produced the lone try of the half, and it was also aided by the weather. A rare high-risk pass from Grant flew out 20-odd yards to Jean de Villiers, who drew his man expertly and fed Sereli Naqelevuki. The Fijian was tackled some five metres short, but slid along the sodden sods into the in-goal area.
Thereafter, it was the men in light blue who dominated possession, but could not find a way through the navy blue wall. There were a lot of knock-ons in contact, and too many ineffective territorial kicks. The game-play just wasn't quite mature enough, too many offloads were forced in the grim weather. The Waratahs had a toehold, but the toe kept slipping out. Still, they went in at the break 6-5 ahead.
That changed within 14 seconds of the restart. Lachie Turner, who will turn 21 on Sunday, decided the gifts were on him and lingered over the clearance before kicking into the outstretched arms of Wylie Human, and the wing pounced on the sliding ball for the score.
Human nearly undid some of his five-point work with a stupid shoulder-charge on Phil Waugh ten minutes later, but Beale was off-target with the penalty, as the rain began to subside.
In the drier spell, the Waratahs showed a little more of what they could do. More passes began to stick and more metres were gained. Once again though, that navy blue wall - Andries Bekker particularly prominent - held firm, and still the visitors were trying to force it once too often.
On the hour mark, the Waratahs got a penalty in the corner, drove a maul to two metres, but then Beale inexplicably fired an uncatchably hard pass all the way down his back-line and the move broke down. Close quarters would surely have been the right way to go about it.
From that move breakdown, the Stormers landed a killer blow. De Villiers seized on a turnover, and kicked intelligently for Luke Watson to chase. watson's foraging earned his team a penalty, which Tony Brown converted to make it 13-6 with 15 minutes to go. As if on cue, the rain began to come down again, and in torrents.
But there was a twist to this tale. For once, some passes and carries stuck in waratah hands in the wet, and out the ball went to Lote Tuqiri who slid home. Beale's conversion from the touchline was majestic. 13-13, and it was all to play for with 11 minutes to go.
The Waratahs grafted earnestly for those minutes - in the end, they had over 70 per cent of the second-half possession - but could not repeat their scoring move. The hosts, for so long the more physically dominant team, faded a little, and were clinging on by the end. But level it stayed.
For the Stormers:
Tries: Naqelevuki, Human
For the Waratahs:
Pens: Beale 2
Stormers: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Wylie Human, 13 Gcobani Bobo, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Sireli Naqelevuki, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Luke Watson, 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Brian Mujati.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Schalk Ferreira, 18 Ross Skeate, 19 Pieter Myburgh, 20 Bolla Conradie, 21 Tony Brown, 22 Dylan des Fountain.
Waratahs: 15 Lote Tuqiri, 14 Lachie Turner, 13 Rob Horne, 12 Tom Carter, 11 Matt Carraro, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Dan Vickerman, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Adam Freier, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Will Caldwell, 19 David Lyons, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Sam Norton-Knight, 22 Timana Tahu.
Referee: Lyndon Bray (New Zealand)
Touch judges: Brent Murray (New Zealand), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Assessor: Arrie Schoonwinkel (South Africa)
Timekeeper: Kat Swanepoel (South Africa)