The Vodacom Stormers are still winless at Carisbrook in Dunedin. On Saturday they went down 35-24 to the Highlanders in their fourth Vodacom Super 14 match of the season.
Their hopes of reaching the play-offs suffered a major setback and only favourable results in other games and a good winning streak for the Cape side could revive their slim hopes.
The Stormers have only one victory to show after four games and the going is not getting any easier on the away leg of their campaign. The Stormers had a terrible start to the game, with fullback Gio Aplon committing two knock-ons in the first two minutes.
The Stomers made just too many mistakes to be competitive. Besides a glut of handling errors they also conceded too many penalties. A problem throughout the game was that the ball carrier became isolated too often, forcing him to hang on to the ball for too long.
Towards the end of the first half they looked much better on the attack after changing their tactics of just spreading the ball laterally across the field to a more direct approach. Too many missed tackles at crucial times also proved costly for the visiting team.
The Highlanders got the scoreboard rolling in the sixth minute when flyhalf Charles Hore slotted a penalty after Stormers captain Luke Watson was penalized for not releasing the ball in the ruck (3-0).
In the 12th minute the home side stretched the lead after Stormers flyhalf Peter Grant’s kick was charged down in his in-goal area by scrumhalf Jimmy Cowan. From the resulting scrum Hore grubber-kicked through a huge hole in the Stormers midfield for outside centre Matt Saunders to pounce.
Hore converted to make the lead 10-0 before slotting another penalty in the 14th minute after Watson again was penalized for using his hands in a ruck.
Minutes later the Highlanders launched an astonishing counter attack from close to their try-line, which ended with No 8 Craig Newby stepping on the touchline just before crossing the try-line.
The Highlanders did get a five-pointer in the 28th minute though when Vilame Waqasaduadua intercepted a Brent Russell pass and ran 70 metres to score under the poles. Hore added two more to make the score 20-0.
The Stormers got a bit of direction to their attacking play and threatened in the 35th minute when lock Andries Bekker surged strongly for the try-line, only to be tackled out of touch by brave little Jimmy Cowan.
Bekker, however, was not to be denied in the 38th minute when he scored after a barn-storming run of 25 metres, beating two defenders in the process. Grant could not convert.
With the siren going off in their ears to signal the end of the first half, the Stormers crucially conceded a penalty close to their try-line. Hore added three to give his team a comfortable cushion at halftime (23-5).
The crowd had to wait 19 minutes for the first points to be scored in the second half – the try going to reserve Hare T-Pole after a poor pass from substitute hooker Schalk Brits. Hore converted to make the score 30-5.
The home side extended the lead in the 65th minute when Saunders got his second. The try came after the ball was kicked ahead by the Highlanders and they applied immense pressure on replacement scrumhalf Bolla Conradie. His pass to Brent Russell was not on target and Saunders said thank you for the gift.
The Stormers scored two late tries through Breyton Paulse and replacement lock Francois van der Merwe to give them a smell of the bonus point for four tries.
They came desperately close in the 78th minute, but Aplon was tackled into touch by a flying Highlander.
The Stormers, however, were rewarded for their tenacity in the last few minutes when Watson barged over for the bonus point try to give them at least one point from the game.
Highlanders – Tries: Matt Saunders (2), Hare T-Pole, Vilame Waqasaduadua; Conversions: Charles Hore (3); Conversions: Charles Hore (3).
Vodacom Stormers – Tries: Andries Bekker, Breyton Paulse, Francois van der Merwe, Luke Watson; Conversions: Peter Grant (2).