Super Rugby

Stormers run out of gas against Highlanders

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Nizaam Carr (Getty)
Nizaam Carr (Getty)

Cape Town - They threatened to cause an upset for more than a half, but in the end the Stormers were outplayed as they fell to a 33-15 defeat to the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday. 

The visitors had exchanged blows with the 2015 tournament champions for the entire first period, but they ran out of puff in the second half to fall to their third defeat in as many weeks on their Australasian tour. 

It is the Stormers’ 10th straight loss on New Zealand soil.

AS IT HAPPENED: Highlanders 33-15 Stormers

Coach Robbie Fleck's men were impressive with ball in hand throughout, but they just couldn't match the Highlanders defensively while problems at lineout time also persisted. 

The visitors had received a blow before kick-off with the news that Springbok Pieter-Steph du Toit was ill and could not feature in the matchday 23. 

It meant that they went in a forward short as flyhalf George Whitehead took Du Toit's place on the bench. 

Defence had been the concern for the Stormers in last weekend's clash against the Crusaders in Christchurch, where they conceded seven tries.

Less than five minutes in on Friday, those problems were evident once more as a series of weak tackles gave the Highlanders some momentum before Liam Squire went over to give the hosts and early lead. 

Flyhalf Lima Sopoaga missed the conversion, but the Highlanders were 5-0 up.

The Stormers, though, hit back strongly. 

After a period of sustained attack, it took a neat back-pass from scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage to release Raymond Rhule, who offloaded to Chris van Zyl. The big lock went crashing over to make it 5-5, with SP Marais also missing his conversion attempt.

19-year-old flyhalf Damian Willemse then gave the Stormers an unlikely lead on 16 minutes when, against the run of play, the Capetonians capitalised on a loose pass during a Highlanders attack. 

Willemse picked up the ball on his own 22m line and galloped the length of the field to score as the Stormers went 12-5 ahead. 

The lead didn't last long before Waisake Naholo went barging over a couple of Stormers defenders before offloading to Aaron Smith on his inside. 

The All Black scrumhalf scored under the posts as the opening quarter ended with the scores locked at 12-12.

The Stormers may have looked susceptible on defence, but their offloading game on attack was impressive. 

They could have taken the lead on 25 minutes, but Marais missed a routine penalty from 40m out and in front. 

It didn't help the Stormers that their lineout struggles from the week before were continuing, with a couple of attacking positions squandered by an inability to win their own ball. 

Marais knocked over his next penalty attempt from closer in after an armless Highlanders tackle, and Fleck's men held a brief 15-12 lead.

Naholo got on the scoresheet almost immediately afterwards with the Highlanders' third try when the Stormers over-committed to a ball in the air that they lost. 

It opened up space for the hosts down the right and it was a matter of quick, simple passes to secure the try. 

Sopoaga converted, and the Highlanders went 19-15 ahead.

The Stormers were dealt another injury blow when Van Zyl was taken off after a knock to the head, handing a Super Rugby debut to 19-year-old second-rower Salmaan Moerat.

The Highlanders were beginning to threaten more often, but the Stormers got into half-time just four points behind despite Ben Smith almost scoring after the hooter. 

The Highlanders should have extended their lead shortly after half time, but Jackson Hemopo dropped the ball over the line in the tackle after the hosts had countered from deep. 

The Stormers were throwing everything at their opposition, but they were just running out of gas in certain areas. 

A beautifully worked backline move opened up the space, and with the Stormers stretched it was No 8 Luke Whitelock who went crashing over after an inside ball from Aaron Smith. 

Sopoaga converted, and the hosts were looking comfortable at 26-15.

A late Aaron Smith try - his second of the night - sealed a bonus point for the home side.

The loss means that the Stormers have just five points from four matches to stay second in the South African Conference for now. They host the Blues in Cape Town next week.

Scorers:

Highlanders

Tries: Liam Squire, Aaron Smith (2), Waisake Naholo, Luke Whitelock

Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (4)

Stormers

Tries: Chris van Zyl, Damian Willemse

Conversion: SP Marais

Penalty: Marais

Teams:

Highlanders

15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Nabura, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown

Substitutes: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Shannon Frizell, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes

Stormers

15 SP Marais, 14 Dillyn Leyds, 13 EW Viljoen, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Damian Willemse, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Nizaam Carr, 7 Kobus van Dyk, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Chris van Zyl, 4 Jan de Klerk, 3 Wilco Louw, 2 Ramone Samuels, 1 Steven Kitshoff

Substitutes: 16 Dean Muir, 17 JC Janse van Rensburg, 18 Carlu Sadie, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 George Whitehead, 21 Sikhumbuzo Notshe, 22 Justin Phillips, 23 JJ Engelbrecht

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