The Stormers scored a comfortable 26-16 win over the Highlanders but failed to secure the all-important bonus point.
Seventeen second-half points buried the Highlanders, and even though winger Fetu’u Vanikolo scored at the death to give the scoreline some respectability the visitors were always second best. However, the Stormers could have won this encounter by far more, and it isn’t unfair to suggest they blew the ultimate opportunity to bag a bonus point.
The first period is one the hosts would rather forget, as the six changes to the starting line-up certainly effected their rhythm. The line-outs were a mess with Tiaan Liebenberg struggling to find his jumpers, and in the loose, the players failed to show that clinical edge so typical of their recent performances. Dylan des Fountain made an incisive break early on but ran away from his support, the end result being a turnover to the Highlanders on their own tryline.
Tony Brown and Highlanders flyhalf Mike Delany were the only men to get on the scoresheet in the first period, Brown nailing three penalties and Delany a drop goal and two penalties. Brown left the field with what seemed like an injury in the 27th minute, bringing Peter Grant into action earlier than expected. Although Grant lent fresh aggression to the backline assault, the Stormers struggled to penetrate the Highlanders defence.
Early in the second half, Jean de Villiers turned down three points in favour of a line-out five metres out. The decision backfired as the Stormers lost yet line-out another off their own throw.
But the Stormers kept their heads and reapplied the pressure, eventually earning another penalty. This time De Villiers pointed to the posts, and Grant reclaimed the lead.
Sireli Naqelevuki initiated the Schalk Brits try that broke the back of the Hurricanes last week and was once again responsible for a game-shifting piece of magic. A bullocking run on the left wing attracted as many as five defenders, but the Fijian still had the strength to get his hands through the tackle and offload to Andries Bekker. The mobile lock set up the next phase, and the ball flew wide to an unmarked Liebenberg on the right wing. The Highlanders cover arrived on cue, but the determined hooker shrugged off the would-be tacklers to score. Grant’s superb touchline conversion gave the hosts some breathing room at 19-9.
The momentum was with the hosts at this point and the Landers did their best to spoil. After 60 minutes, prop Clint Newland was yellow-carded for an offence at the maul. When the Stormers had an opportunity from point blank range, the forwards rumbled ominously and replacement Brits flew over for his second try in as many weeks. At 26-9, the result seemed secure, but the hosts were still hunting for that all-important bonus point for four tries.
A formidable 35m drive found the Highlanders with no answer to the Stormers pack’s synergy. Unfortunately for the hosts, another promising drive from the line-out was undone when No 8 Luke Watson knocked on with the try line begging.
The game ended in frustrating fashion for the hosts, as they spurned a couple of try-scoring opportunities through untimely turnovers. The scoreboard reflected a comfortable win, but the Stormers should have scored at least four tries.
The Lions and Cheetahs failed to do the Stormers any favours with their respective losses, but the Cape franchise could rue their own missed opportunities against the Highlanders. A four-try bonus would have elevated them to third on the log. A win is a good result, but they’re now under immense pressure to beat the Brumbies and climb the ladder from their current sixth-place standing.
Stormers - Tries: Tiaan Liebenberg, Schalk Brits. Conversions: Peter Grant (2). Penalties: Tony Brown (3), Grant.
Highlanders - Try: Fetu’u Vainikolo. Conversion: Blair Stewart. Penalties: Mike Delany. Drop goal: Delany.
By Jon Cardinelli