An outstanding defensive effort and the boot of Peter Grant helped the DHL Stormers end the Highlanders’ unbeaten run in Super Rugby with a hard fought but deserved 18-6 win at Newlands on Friday night.
It was the second consecutive match at the stadium that ended without a try being scored, with the last five pointer registered here being the driving maul effort that won the Stormers their match against the Lions two weeks ago. That means there has been 165 minutes of rugby without a try being scored.
But that should matter less to the Stormers after this game than it did when they edged out the Cheetahs in a bore-a-thon last week. At least this time they knocked over a top team, with the Highlanders having scaled great heights by beating the Bulls at Loftus just six days earlier.
It was a better match than the Cheetahs one, and the Stormers did improve the accuracy of most aspects of their game. But it was Grant and the defensive effort that won it for them against a Highlanders side that certainly enjoyed enough possession to win it.
Grant missed only once in seven penalty attempts, some of them again from significantly bigger distances than we expected from him in the past, and the fact that his Highlanders counterpart Robbie Robinson’s success rate was just two out of five went a long way to explaining why the hosts won.
Not that Grant’s goalkicking was the only positive aspect of his play – he delivered a polished performance in general play, produced at least one break that created some much needed excitement in the stands, and then of course there is his sound defensive game.
And it was the defensive effort of the Stormers, probably more so even than Grant’s kicking, that won the Stormers this game. The Stormers should also add burly flanker Francois Louw to their little ditty of gratitude for winning this game.
The Springbok was responsible for several crucial turn-overs that prevented the Highlanders, who enjoyed the bulk of the possession in the match, from building up the momentum that could have breached the Stormers defensive line and won them the game.
Their victory extended their winning sequence against New Zealand teams, which dates back to the 2009 season, to seven matches.
For a long time the Highlanders gave the impression they were hell-bent on softening the Stormers up with off-the-ball niggle.
It broke out into open war-fare in the 36th minute when Highlanders lock Jarrod Hoeata punched the Stormers’ Andries Bekker. The Highlanders contended that Bekker was trying to throttle Hoeata, so after both sides waded into each other with punches, referee Steve Walsh sent both of the second row forwards for a 10 minute spell in the sin-bin.
The Highlanders continued to niggle after that, and Louw found himself diving into a tussle on the ground between Adam Thomson and Juan de Jongh a few minutes later that briefly threatened another punch-up.
The yellow card incident presented Grant with his fourth penalty attempt, and he made no mistake to make it 12-6, which was the half-time score. The Stormers had started well, and taken a 9-0 lead after the first quarter, before the Highlanders began to claw their way back.
Although the Highlanders did a lot of attacking, and might have thought they had scored a try to hooker Jason Rutledge in the left hand corner that was disallowed by the TMO because the ball was unsighted, and made a lot of ground up the middle through their powerful centres, they never looked like overturning the half-time deficit.
The Stormers had to wait until the 54th minute before Grant put them more than a score ahead, but after that the Highlanders were playing catch-up and on a hiding to nothing against a Stormers team making so few defensive errors.
Stormers 18 – Penalties: Peter Grant 6
Highlanders 6 – Robbie Robinson 2.