The Vodacom Stormers had to overcome a jittery start before they could beat a game Highlanders side 26-16 in their Vodacom Super 14 match at Newlands on Saturday.
The home side kept their quest for a semifinal berth alive by getting their act together in the second half after the teams were pegged level at 9-9 at halftime.
Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus this week made six changes to his side and he said he expected a few hiccups. He words seemed prophetic as the Stormers just couldn’t click into fifth gear against a Highlanders side still smarting from last weekend’s drubbing at the hands of the Bulls.
A few changes in the second half worked like a charm though and the Stormers and their fans had good reason to celebrate after the game. The players would know, however, that this was not the real deal and that an improvement is required if they want to remain in the hunt.
Former Highlanders flyhalf Tony Brown – in his run-on debut for his adopted team – in the fourth minute slotted a penalty kick after the Highlanders joined a maul from an offside position.
In the 6th minute the Highlanders looked dangerous and had the home supporters panicking when flyhalf Mike Delaney scythed through a hole, just to find a determined Conrad Jantjes blocking his way with a humdinger of a tackle.
The Highlanders were rewarded for their efforts though when Delaney’s drop kick after a ruck was perfect (3-3). In the 9th the Stormers regained the lead when Brown slotted another penalty kick after the visitors were penalized for a dangerous tackle.
The Stormers had a chance to stretch their lead in the 22nd minute after a high tackle on scrumhalf Bolla Conradie and Brown made no mistake with a 45m attempt (9-3).
The Highlanders struck back in the 25th minute via a Delany penalty to make the score 9-6. Brown left the field injured and regular flyhalf Peter Grant replaced him.
Delany drew the scores level with another penalty in the 32nd after an infringement in a ruck by the Stormers.
In the 43rd the Stormers botched a golden opportunity to score points. They received a penalty in a kickable position, but opted to go for the try from a lineout. They, however, couldn’t control the ball, resulting in a scrum to the Highlanders.
Grant handed his side the lead again in the 46th min after a moment of madness by Highlanders prop Jamie Mackintosh, who went straight over the top of a ruck (12-9).
Stormers coach Rassie Erasmus made a double tactical substitute thereafter when he sent on scrumhalf Ricky Januarie and prop Brok Harris. They replaced Bolla Conradie and Schalk Ferreira respectively.
The change almost immediately brought the desired results, with a long-range movement in which wing Sereli Naqelevuki and wing Andries Bekker played a huge role resulting in a try for hooker Tiaan Liebenberg in the 50th minute.
Outside centre Gcobani Bobo’s exquisite long pass was perfect for Liebenberg to go on a charge along the right hand touch line and shrugging off a defender before diving over.
The decision was left to the Television Match Official, who ruled in favour of the home team. Grant beautifully converted from far out to sent the 41 000 strong crowd into raptures (19-9).
In the 52nd minute Erasmus sent on Schalk Brits as replacement for Liebenberg and two minutes later flank Schalk Burger cried off with a knee injury to be replaced by Robbie Diack. Lock Ross Skeate also left in the 55th minute for Adriaan Fondse to enter the fray.
The Stormers got their second try in the 60th minute when they again opted to kick for position and a lineout close to the enemey try-line. They mauled the ball up a few metres before Brits broke away to score. Grant added two more and suddenly the lead looked unassailable at 26-9.
The Highlanders suffered a setback when prop Clint Newland was off to the sin bin shortly before the try.
The Stormers conjured up a monster of a rolling maul in the 48th that gained them about 40m and was rewarded with a penalty for their effort. They went for the lineout and again went over the try-line, only to loose the ball.
The home side tried every thing in their power to get those two elusive tries for a bonus point, but the defence was staunch. It was the Highlanders who got their only try of the match in the dying moments when wing Fetu’u Vainikolo crossed the line. Delany converted to make the final score 26-16.
Vodacom Stormers – Tries: Tiaan Liebenberg, Schalk Brits; Conversions: Peter Grant (2); Penalties: Peter Grant (1), Tony Brown (3).
Highlanders – Try: Fetu’u Vainikolo; Conversion: Mike Delany; Penalties: Mike Delany (2); Drop goal: Mike Delany.