The Stormers maintained their challenge in the Super 14 competition with a hard-earned 26-16 win over a gutsy Highlanders outfit at Newlands on Saturday.
However, the Stormers may still rue the fact that they failed to earn a four-try bonus point, as it saw them hovering in sixth place – just outside the play-off spots – whereas the bonus point could have moved them into third place on the standings.
It is indeed that close at the top!
Rugby 365 reports that fortunately the second half bucked up, for the first half of this match in later-afternoon conditions on a balmy autumn day at the Cape was a drab affair indeed. Falling leaves were much more attractive than this spluttering, stop-start, clumsy affair. It was also a half in which the Highlanders had the better of things for play was mainly at the southern end of the famous ground.
The second half was a different matter. Play was almost entirely back at the southern end but this time with the Stormers cracking the whip. It was certainly an afternoon in which they should have score the four tries they wanted and in fact would have done so but for the resolute nature of their opponents.
The men from the end of South Island are not softies.
Perhaps the first half was inevitable complacency. A team on a roll was playing a team near the bottom of the table who had just been smashed by the hesitant Bulls. Perhaps the change came with the arrival of Enrico Januarie and a quick and accurate service, an instant presence at the breakdown, a constant threat to the opponents and a tigerish defender. He really was an impact player.
The Highlanders also found themselves at odds with the referee and entered into many debates. The penalty count in the match was 12-6 against them – penalties, not free kicks and four of them became points. Eventually the Stormers gave up scoring off penalties in their quest for four tries.
The Stormers also lost Tony Brown early on and then late in the match Schalk Burger who again was playing a dozen times more than anybody else on the field. He hurt a knee. “I heard it click.” Afterwards he went off for a scan. The Stormers need him – all the many players that he is.
The Stormers scrum surprisingly dominated their opponents – until Brian Mujati was required to play on the other side and as long as they threw to Andries Bekker they controlled their line-outs but they lost three important ones – the three which they threw deep and overthrew.
In the absence of James Wilson the Highlanders played Mike Delany, 25 years of age but new to Super rugby, at flyhalf and he did really well with telling breaks and some good kicking in the first half to keep the Highlanders going forward.
The Stormers started well. A penalty got them into Highlander territory and a chip by Brown gave them a line-out when Dylan des Fountain forced Paul Williams out. That gave them a line-out and a second penalty which Brown goaled. 3-0 after 4 minutes.
The Highlanders latched onto an overthrown line-out and went through many phases of well protected ball till Delany dropped a goal. 30-3 after 6 minutes.
Two minutes later Brown goaled after the Highlanders were penalised for a dangerous tackle. 6-3.
From a tapped free kick Des Fountain had a long swerving run down the right, unfortunately for him losing contact with his support. A second tap had the Stormers at the Highlanders’ line for a five-metre scrum but they yielded a free kick and Delany sent them a long way back.
The Stormers went right, left and right again till Fetu’u Vainikolo tackled Tiaan Liebenberg out five metres from the line.
When Adam Thomson tackled Bolla Conradie high Brown goaled from 45 metres out. 9-3 after 21 minutes.
The Highlanders attacked again and again through phases, making ground but succumbing to Burger’s hard enthusiasm again and again. But in the process Delany kicked two penalty goals – on 26 minutes and again on 33 minutes to make the score 9-all at the break.
The Stormers started with two five-metre line-outs, some bashing and a messed up overthrow, but they did score a penalty goal. 12-9 after 48 minutes.
It was at this stage that Januarie came on.
The Highlanders paid a brief visit to the Stormers 22 but the home side broke out with some great running down the left with Sireli Naqelevuki prominent. From there they came far right and a perfect long, left-handed pass by Gcobani Bobo reached Liebenberg who rushed ahead, bounced off Vainikolo’s tackle and scroed in the corner, which Grant converted. 19-9 after 49 minutes.
Victory was now obvious enough for the crowd to start singing Olé.
When massive Clint Newland was sent to the sin bin, the Stormers had another five-metre line-out and mauled till Schalk Brits broke off and flashed over the line with a dive. 26-9 with 19 minutes to go.
The Stormers strained on the attack for most of those 219 minutes but gave birth to no more points. They once mauled for 40 metres from a line-out. Luke Watson was at the line and Bekker over it but the tall lock lost the ball forward.
The stadium clock counted down and the crowd counted down with them but the Highlanders were in the Stormers’ 22 and a scrum was set. The siren went and Blair Stewart kicked a diagonal to the left. Little Gio Aplon was alert to the danger but still no match for burly Vainikolo who caught the ball and fell over for a try which Blair converted. This had no effect on the competition but a try is never meaningless. For the whipped Highlanders it was a heartening ending.
Man of the Match: It must be Andries Bekker – no doubt. His work in the time-out where the competition was good, was excellent. And outside of the line-out he certainly plays, his remarkable speed an asset on attack and defence.
Moment of the Match: One is tempted to say the arrival of Enrico Januarie but really is was the whole break-out and slickness of hands that set Tiaan Liebenberg over for his try.
Villain of the match: Were Craig Newby’s long debates with the referee really necessary?
For the Stormers:
Tries: Liebenberg, Brits
Cons: Grant 2
Pens: Brown 3, Grant
For the Highlanders:
Pens: Delaney 2
Yellow card: Clint Newland (Highlanders, 60 – repeated infringements, collapsing the maul)Tweet