Highlanders smash hapless Stormers

It truly was a House of Pain for the hapless Stormers, as they stumbled to a 35-24 defeat at the hands of an inspired Highlanders team in their Super 14 match at Carisbrook in Dunedin on Saturday.

Both teams scored four tries, but the Stormers’ bonus-point score came only in the 80th minute – after the Highlanders had raced into an early 20-0 lead and had led 35-5 midway through the second half.

Perhaps the Stormers will have felt aggrieved about the eventual margin, after a few minutes’ good work at a crucial moment in the first half was undone by a strange call – or rather the lack thereof – by referee Matt Goddard in minute 28, but they can have no beefs about the result.

Any other good Stormers work in the first 20 minutes – there wasn’t much – was undone only by the Stormers themselves. They finished that first quarter 13-0 down, having conceded five penalties where their hosts had conceded none. Thereafter their game descended into a desperate blend of tactical ineptitude and handling incapability, rescued only by their opponents’ fatiugue at the end.

Stormers captain Luke Watson was at the heart of three of those five penalties, adding further credence to Jake White’s insistence that he might not yet be the fully-fledged flanker that Capetonians would have you believe. Power and pace he has, but the ability to play on the edge of the laws without falling over it too often is something he has not yet developed.

Another Stormer yet to live up to the boasts of his fans is full-back Gio Aplon. The full-back endured a miserable first half, spilling three balls and finding no dancing room for his stepping feet. Late in the game, he was shoved into touch with the line at his mercy all too easily. The tighter wilier defences at the higher level are catching Aplon up, and he must develop a more complete game to cope, including a stright-running presence.

Things improved from aberration to anonymity through the game for him, but for both Aplon and Watson in their respective roles, the step up from Currie Cup to Super rugby is proving a little too big at present.

But for a lot of the Stormers players, including the experienced and the international, even the basics were lacking for much of the game, particularly communication. That is a real worrying aspect for them, for once a team is disheartened enought to stop talking to each other, the end of the season’s aspirations is usually nigh. They should forget the late flurry of tries and bonus point too, for it could disguise the failings that had the Stormers 30 points adrift after 65 minutes.

The home team didn’t really need to do much beyond the basics to win. Charlie Hore goaled a penalty after five minutes, and five minutes later again a gem of a try put the Highlanders 10-0 ahead.

A terrific kick by Callum Bruce to the corner forced a line-out, and then Stormers scrum-half JP Joubert saw his clearance charged down by Jimmy Cowan, leading to a 5m scrum.

From the scrum, the ball went out to Bruce, who dinked a grubber through for fellow centre Matt Saunders to pounce on for a simple try – made all the more easier by the absence of any form of full-back cover.

Hore then slotted his second for a 13-0 lead, and had Craig Newbie not placed a foot in touch after a scintillating 50m move involving Hore and Saunders, the Highlanders could have had more points than minutes played in the first quarter of an hour.

During the middle part of the first half the visitors finally came to life, recycling ball well, and even holding onto it occasionally. Their best chance of a try was when the ball came to Aplon, but he dropped the crucial pass into touch.

Then came the moment that really pushed the Stormers’ heads down. Referee Goddard gave the Stormers an advantage, the ball went through a couple of phases, and then went wide. When precisely that advantage ended was never cle

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