Highlanders

Highlanders smash hapless Stormers

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It truly was a House of Pain for the hapless Stormers, as they stumbled to a 35-24 defeat at the hands of an inspired Highlanders team in their Super 14 match at Carisbrook in Dunedin on Saturday.


Both teams scored four tries, but the Stormers’ bonus-point score came only in the 80th minute – after the Highlanders had raced into an early 20-0 lead and had led 35-5 midway through the second half.


Perhaps the Stormers will have felt aggrieved about the eventual margin, after a few minutes’ good work at a crucial moment in the first half was undone by a strange call – or rather the lack thereof – by referee Matt Goddard in minute 28, but they can have no beefs about the result.


Any other good Stormers work in the first 20 minutes – there wasn’t much – was undone only by the Stormers themselves. They finished that first quarter 13-0 down, having conceded five penalties where their hosts had conceded none. Thereafter their game descended into a desperate blend of tactical ineptitude and handling incapability, rescued only by their opponents’ fatiugue at the end.


Stormers captain Luke Watson was at the heart of three of those five penalties, adding further credence to Jake White’s insistence that he might not yet be the fully-fledged flanker that Capetonians would have you believe. Power and pace he has, but the ability to play on the edge of the laws without falling over it too often is something he has not yet developed.


Another Stormer yet to live up to the boasts of his fans is full-back Gio Aplon. The full-back endured a miserable first half, spilling three balls and finding no dancing room for his stepping feet. Late in the game, he was shoved into touch with the line at his mercy all too easily. The tighter wilier defences at the higher level are catching Aplon up, and he must develop a more complete game to cope, including a stright-running presence.


Things improved from aberration to anonymity through the game for him, but for both Aplon and Watson in their respective roles, the step up from Currie Cup to Super rugby is proving a little too big at present.


But for a lot of the Stormers players, including the experienced and the international, even the basics were lacking for much of the game, particularly communication. That is a real worrying aspect for them, for once a team is disheartened enought to stop talking to each other, the end of the season’s aspirations is usually nigh. They should forget the late flurry of tries and bonus point too, for it could disguise the failings that had the Stormers 30 points adrift after 65 minutes.


The home team didn’t really need to do much beyond the basics to win. Charlie Hore goaled a penalty after five minutes, and five minutes later again a gem of a try put the Highlanders 10-0 ahead.


A terrific kick by Callum Bruce to the corner forced a line-out, and then Stormers scrum-half JP Joubert saw his clearance charged down by Jimmy Cowan, leading to a 5m scrum.


From the scrum, the ball went out to Bruce, who dinked a grubber through for fellow centre Matt Saunders to pounce on for a simple try – made all the more easier by the absence of any form of full-back cover.


Hore then slotted his second for a 13-0 lead, and had Craig Newbie not placed a foot in touch after a scintillating 50m move involving Hore and Saunders, the Highlanders could have had more points than minutes played in the first quarter of an hour.


During the middle part of the first half the visitors finally came to life, recycling ball well, and even holding onto it occasionally. Their best chance of a try was when the ball came to Aplon, but he dropped the crucial pass into touch.


Then came the moment that really pushed the Stormers’ heads down. Referee Goddard gave the Stormers an advantage, the ball went through a couple of phases, and then went wide. When precisely that advantage ended was never clear, but it was barely before Viliame Waqaseduadua had picked off Brent Russell’s pass to race hom unopposed.


The Stormers enjoyed their best spell leading up to the break, and it finished in a try. Two minutes previously, a long floated pass to Andries Becker had been too slow and had cost an overlap, but another more direct pass had the lock striding past the cover to the corner. Full-back Glen Horton never stood a chance of stopping him; it was like watching a basset-hound trying to give an oncoming tanker a welcome-home cuddle.


Peter Grant failed to claw back two more points, and Hore scored an extra three for the Highlanders with a penalty, the last kick of the first half, making it 23-5.


The Stormers’ errors piled up in the second half, and there was only so long they could go before being punished. The handling was especially abject, and on the hour mark it was well-punished with a superb try.


Schalk Brits’s pass to Robbie Diack was a hospital pass, but Diack shunned taking the ball in the contact completely, allowing the ball to drift beyond him. Waqaseduadua picked it up and broke, then popping to Saunders, whose grubber was seized on by Newbie before the final offload to the dreadlocked Hale T-Pole for the score, converted by Hore.


Five minutes later and the Stormers’ shortcomings of communication were exposed again, when a Bruce grubber had Bolla Conradie scampering back, picking the ball up, and then firing an uncatchably hard bullet-like pass to Burger who was covering back on an angle rather than wide as Conradie had assumed. The ball shot through Burger’s hands to the gleeful Saunders, who dotted down his second to make it 35-5.


Yes there was a late rally by the visitors, containing three tries and the fillip of a bonus point, but it was against a tired Highlanders team that spent the last five minutes playing with only 14 men after Bruce went off injured with all the replacements already used.


Breyton Paulse finished off a break started by Brent Russell, Fran’ois van der Merwe muscled through a maul driven from a line-out, and Watson barged through some weak tackles in the final move of the game. Grant converted two of the kicks for the final scoreline.


The Stormers will have to do more than run in tries against spent opposition when thirty points down if they are to do anything with this season though.


The scorers:


For the Highlanders:
Tries: Saunders 2, Waqaseduadua, T-Pole
Cons: Hore 3
Pens: Hore 3


For the Stormers:
Tries: Bekker, Paulse, Van der Merwe, Watson
Cons: Grant 2


Teams:


Highlanders: 15 Glen Horton, 14 Lucky Mulipola, 13 Matthew Saunders, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Viliame Waqaseduadua, 10 Charlie Hore, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Craig Newby, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Josh Blackie (c), 5 James Ryan, 4 Hoani MacDonald, 3 Chris King, 2 Jason MacDonald, 1 Clarke Dermody
Replacements: 16 David Hall, 17 Keith Cameron, 18 Kane Thompson, 19 Hale T-Pole, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Aaron Bancroft or Jason Kawau, 22 Craig Clare


Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Breyton Paulse, 13 Jean de Villiers, 12 De Wet Barry, 11 Brent Russell, 10 Peter Grant, 9 JP Joubert, 8 Robbie Diack, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Luke Watson (c), 5 Andries Bekker, 4 Gerrie Britz, 3 Brok Harris, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 JD Moller
Replacements: 16 Schalk Brits, 17 Eddie Andrews, 18 Schalk Ferreira, 19 Francois van der Merwe, 20 Justin Melck, 21 Bolla Conradie, 22 Corne Uys


Referee: Matt Goddard (Australia)
Touch judges: Andrew Lindsay (Australia), Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Television match official: Brent Murray (New Zealand)


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