Super Rugby: Stormers Snap Highlanders Win Streak in Gutsy Performance
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The Stormers have ended the Highlanders' 2011 unbeaten run with a 18-6 win in their fourth round encounter at Newlands.
It was a gutsy win built on tireless defence which saw the Stormers make tackle after tackle and withstand everything the men from New Zealand's deep south threw at them.
And that's no exaggeration. The Stormers were forced to make twice as many tackles as the Highlanders as they scrapped for the whole game to hold their opponents to just 6 points.
The Stormers dominated early proceedings as they had all the possession and territory. This dominance was rewarded with three penalties which took the score to 9-0.
A fight back from the Highlanders saw them bring the score back to 12-6 at halftime with the game still in balance.
The second half saw the Highlanders with almost all the possession and territory, but were let down by poor handling and bad decisions being made at crucial times. They were held scoreless for the remainder of the game while the reliable boot of Peter Grant extended the Stormers lead to 12 points, making the final score 18-6.
It was a display of true guts by the Stormers as they stood resolute to wave after wave of attack.
Remember, this was the Highlanders team who cut the defending champion Bulls team to pieces last week on their own turf. This week however, the Stormers simply didn't give the Highlanders a chance to run in the same way the Bulls did.
They matched them at the breakdowns with Francois Louw being particularly brilliant with his ability to effect turnovers. This translated in the Highlanders backs not having the room to attack and were constantly on the back foot which paved way for the high error rate from the Highlanders.
The one glaring weakness in the Stormers game was their attack. Only once in the game did they even look like crossing the line. With a backline possessing Jean De Villiers, Jacque Fourie, Juan De Jongh, Bryan Habana and Gio Aplon, one would expect them to give defences all sorts of problems. But somehow they don't seem to threaten once they get on the field.
Of the above players only Aplon came close to scoring against the Highlanders with an outstanding individual effort that would have seen him cross the line had he not looked to offload.
If they keep defending the way they have been they should be fine, but it wouldn't hurt to add another string to their bow by looking to attack out wide. They certainly have the potential and should they choose to unleash it they will find themselves amongst the favourites come finals time.
For the Highlanders it wasn't a great performance. Their error rate was too high. In particular their handling cost them as well as passing up two shots at goal in the second half that could have seen the deficit reduced to just six.
However, it's not all bad if you're a Highlanders fan. Not many teams go to South Africa and win both their games, just like not many South African teams come to New Zealand and walk away with two wins.
In consecutive weeks the Highlanders were to play the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, Stormers at Newlands and Crusaders at Carisbrook. Possibly the hardest three game stretch in the competition. Two games into this stretch they have secured five competition points, which must be seen as a positive.
The side returns home to Dunedin next week where they will square off with their traditional rivals, the Crusaders. The Crusaders come off one of their most dominant performances in recent years and represent a stiff challenge for the southern men. The Highlanders will be tired after their South African tour and will be eyeing up the bye the week after to re-energise meaning mentally they might not be all there for next week.
Either way, three wins out of five with the draw they've had has to be a positive for the Highlanders after many predicted their demise early on.
The key now is to put this weekend's game behind them and focus on next week. Both the Highlanders and Stormers have showed that they have what it takes to mix it with the best of the competition and it is now up to them both to ensure they fulfil their potential by securing places in the playoffs come June.
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