Dunedin – Centre Peter Grant scored a try 11 minutes from full-time to give the Vodacom Stormers an 18-11 win over the Highlanders in their Vodacom Super 14 clash on Friday, ending the Highlanders’ faint semi-final playoff hopes.
The Highlanders led 6-0 on penalties after a lacklustre first half and the lead changed hands three times in the second half before Grant’s try broke an 11-11 deadlock to give the Stormers their third win of the season and their first on a five-match Australasian tour.
The Highlanders took remote playoff hopes into the match at Carisbrook but needed a win, and ideally a four-try bonus point, to keep those hopes alive. They took a consolation bonus point from a loss by seven points but, with only 15 championship points available from the tournament’s last three rounds and with three road matches ahead, can no longer reach the top four.
The Stormers are also out of playoff contention but salvaged some pride with a win in their last tour match before returning to South Africa.
“It was an outstanding win for our team,” Stormers captain Schalk Burger said. “The season has been a shocker and we’re all pretty keen to get back to South Africa with a win underneath us.”
Flyhalf Mathew Berquist nudged the Highlanders to a half-time lead with penalties in the 24th and 31st minutes. Neither side managed to gain control in a first half dominated by kicking and both lost continuity through errors and turnovers at breakdown.
The Stormers picked up their effort in that area in the second spell and carved out small but crucial advantages of territory and possession.
“We got beaten at the breakdown (against the Hurricanes) last week so we targeted that area this week and it came off,” Burger said. “The breakdown and turnover possession is crucial in the modern game.”
The Stormers slashed the Highlanders’ lead with an unconverted try to Fijian wing Sireli Naqelevuki in the third minute of the second half.
A Highlanders chip kick fell into the Stormers hands and Grant ignited a counter-attack, sending Naqelevuki away on a 40-metre run to the line.
A penalty to flyhalf Willem de Waal put the Stormers ahead for the first time in the 49th minute but the Highlanders immediately reclaimed the lead with a try to wing Ben Smith.
De Waal kicked a penalty to tie the scores 11-11 after 62 minutes and Grant’s try, from concerted Stormers pressure in the 69th minute, lifted the visitors to a deserved win.
“It’s our last home game at Carisbrook this season and to finish on that note is disappointing,” said Highlanders captain Jimmy Cowan.
Highlanders: Try: Ben Smith; Penalties: Matthew Berquist (2)
Vodacom Stormers: Tries: Sireli Naqelevuki, Peter Grant; Conversion: Willem de Waal; Penalties: De Waal (2)
Referee: Matt Goddard (AUS)