The Investec Stormers today managed a hard-fought 16-16 draw against the Highlanders in the first game of the overseas leg of their Super 12 at Rugby Park in Invergarcill.
Flyhalf Gaffie du Toit, who didn’t have a great day with the kicking boot, slotted a penalty in the 80th minute to make the scores level.
This after only two minutes earlier it seemed as if the Highlanders’ fullback Ben Blair inflicted the final nail in the Stormers’ coffin when he succeeded with a penalty to give his side a 16-13 lead.
The Stormers were on track for their first-ever win over the Highlanders in New Zealand and enjoyed a 8-3 lead at halftime thanks to an intercept try by outside centre Jean de Villiers and a penalty by Du Toit. The Highlanders, however, showed some good fighting spirit and came back strongly in the second half.
In fact, it seemed they were spurred on by a decision from referee Scott Young not to allow them a try after a massive rolling maul from a lineout. Young instead awarded the Stormers a penalty, ruling that one of the Highlanders’ forwards took an opponent out illegally.
After that the Highlanders, who were playing second fiddle in every facet of the game, seemed rejuvenated. They found a few holes in the Stormers defence and had the visitors under severe pressure.
After halftime the trend continued, with big No 8 Paul Miller and centre Seilala Mapusua wreaking havoc in the defence. Mapusua so nearly broke Stormers hearts with only a few minutes left on the clock when he just knocked the ball on due to the timely intervention of De Villiers after following up on his grubber kick.
The Stormers will be happy with the performance of the new-look tight five in the first half. JD Moller (loosehead prop), Hanyani Shimange (hooker) and Andries Bekker all made satisfactory debuts, but the introduction of the more experienced Eddie Andrews (prop) and lock Quinton Davids steadied the ship at a time the home pack threatened to dominate .
The game was played in pouring rain and that blunted the attacking power of the exciting Stormers somewhat. They showed their class, though, when the backs combined beautifully for wing Tonderai Chavhanga’s try in the 60th minute that gave the Stormers a 13-10 lead.
A Blair penalty in the 69th minute drew the scores level before Blair gave his side the lead with another penalty.
Stormers coach Gert Smal would probably be worried about his side’s apparent lack of discipline. They conceded 12 penalties, many of which were for offside play. Their first time tackling, particularly in the second half, was not up to scratch.
Another point of concern would be the out of hand kicking, which allowed the Highlanders to put them under pressure with counter attacks.
The Stormers did well though to come away with two points from this game. They tackle the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday in their third match in the competiton.
Investec Stormers – Tries: Jean de Villiers, Tonderai Chavhanga; Penalty: Gaffie du Toit (2).
Highlanders – Try: Craig Newby; Conversion: Ben Blair; Penalties: Ben Blair (3).