The Highlanders scored nine tries in their record 57-14 win over the Stormers in Dunedin on Friday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The result marks the Stormers' third defeat in succession. One week after sustaining a record 57-24 loss to the Crusaders, and the Stormers have copped their heaviest defeat to the Highlanders, both in terms of points conceded and the losing margin.
The Highlanders played like the All Blacks in the first half. They absorbed the early pressure from a Stormers pack that appeared desperate to atone for an insipid showing against the Crusaders.
The Highlanders clattered into the collisions, forced important breakdown turnovers, kicked accurately for space, and won far more than they lost in the air. Their finishing was nothing short of outstanding. By half-time, they had scored five tries and 31 points.
For the hapless Stormers, it was Christchurch all over again. While they were the victims of one or two poor calls by the referee, they let themselves down with a weak breakdown performance, as well as a gutless showing on defence. The leadership was again lacking when the going got tough.
The game was locked up at 7-7 in the first quarter when Oli Kebble was penalised for a dangerous tackle. TV replays showed that the Highlanders jumper had fallen on to the Stormers prop, and that Kebble had merely pushed the player away. However, referee Glen Jackson penalised Kebble, and the Highlanders were allowed to kick for touch and then launch an attack from the lineout.
While the Highlanders were fortunate to receive that platform, there was nothing fortunate about the finish. Aaron Smith threw a flat pass across three of his players and found Waisake Naholo running at a hole in the Stormers defence.
Indeed, the Stormers have only themselves to blame for the result and scoreline. They appeared to lose confidence and belief after that Naholo try, and their breakdown effort, which had been admirable in the first 10 minutes when they had the Highlanders on the back foot, flagged significantly.
Patrick Osborne scored two tries in the first half, and created another for Rob Thompson on the stroke of half-time. At 31-7, the Highlanders looked to be on course for a resounding bonus-point win.
As was the case last week, the Stormers lifted their game in the third quarter. They could not, however, find a way through the Highlanders defence. Poor decision-making and worse handling cost them at key moments on attack.
There was a chance for the visitors to hit back and add some respectability to the scoreline when Highlanders prop Aki Seiuli was yellow-carded in the 58th minute. Yet it was the Highlanders who scored next, despite being one man short. That score summed up the attitude of the Highlanders, and the defensive frailty of the Stormers.
Dewaldt Duvenage scored in the 74th minute for the visitors. The Highlanders had the final say, though.
The hosts launched a sweeping counter-attack after the hooter, and reserve lock Joe Wheeler produced a grubber on the Stormers 22. Matt Faddes read the play well, and rounded the posts to score the Highlanders' ninth try.
Thus far, the Stormers have conceded 17 tries and 114 points on this tour. They may battle to improve on that record when they visit the Hurricanes in Wellington next week.
Highlanders – Tries: Patrick Osborne (2), Waisake Naholo (2), Liam Squire, Rob Thompson, Dillon Hunt, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Matt Faddes. Conversions: Marty Banks (6).
Stormers – Tries: Nizaam Carr, Dewaldt Duvenage. Conversions: Robert du Preez (2).
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes.
Stormers – 15 SP Marais, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Dan Kriel, 11 Dillyn Leyds, 10 Robert du Preez, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (c), 5 Jan de Klerk, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Oli Kebble.
Subs: 16 Ramone Samuels, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 Kobus van Dyk, 20 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 21 Dewaldt Duvenage, 22 Shaun Treeby, 23 Bjorn Basson.
Photo: Dianne Manson/Getty Images