Stormers edge out Highlanders
The Stormers returned to the victory trail in style with a 29-28 victory over the Highlanders in Cape Town on Saturday.
In a match played at a frenetic pace, both sides deserve credit for making it an entertaining spectacle as they kept the ball in hand at every opportunity and the result could have gone either way.
The Stormers, who were heavily criticised earlier this season for being too defensive, have changed to a more expansive style in recent weeks and their efforts were rewarded with four tries.
There were soft moments, however, particularly on defence, and they will be disappointed with the way they allowed the visitors to strike back thrice with tries shortly after they crossed the whitewash themselves.
The homeside got off to a superb start, winning a crucial turnover from the kick-off which immediately put the Highlanders on the back-foot inside their 22.
A period of sustained pressure - in which they took the ball through 10 phases - culminated in Frans Malherbe crashing over from close quarters for his first ever Super Rugby try as early as the second minute.
Kurt Coleman converted, but the homeside's joy was short-lived as the visitors struck back with a superb try from Aaron Smith shortly afterwards. The diminutive number nine found himself in space inside the Stormers' 22 and delivered a deft chip kick before regathering and dotting down.
The Stormers didn't panic and continued implementing their game-plan. They held the upperhand for the rest of the opening period and spent large parts camped inside their opponents' half.
There were several times when they had opportunities to take shots at goal but instead opted to kick for touch or took tap penalties. One such moment occurred in the 28th minute when after playing quickly, close to the Highlanders' try-line, Schalk Burger - who impressed in his first match for the Stormers at Newlands since 2012 - drew in three defenders before offloading out of the back of his hand to Malherbe who dived over for his second try.
The homeside's decision to keep the ball in hand was reaping rewards and five minutes later they crossed the whitewash again.
Juan de Jongh ran onto a flat pass from Coleman and burst through a gaping hole in the Highlanders and drew in Ben Smith before getting his pass away to Damian de Allende who scored in the right-hand corner.
The Highlanders didn't panic and struck back almost immediately through a try from Trent Renata. The five-pointer was set up by Sopoaga who delivered a grubber kick for Ben Smith to chase inside the hosts' 22. Smith couldn't gather himself but kept the ball in play by kicking it ahead and Renata dived onto the ball behind the hosts' try-line.
The Stormers were quickest out of the blocks in the second half through an Oliver Kebble try from close quarters in the 49th minute. This after Stormers skipper Jean de Villiers decided to kick for touch for a line-out when they were awarded a kickable penalty.
Coleman kicked the conversion but the pendulum swung back in the visitors' favour in the 53rd minute when Scarra Ntubeni received his marching orders for slowing the ball down cynically at a ruck while the Highlanders were on the attack close to the Stormers' posts.
The visitors upped the ante and then scored two tries in quick succession. First they opted to take a scrum from the penalty awarded for Ntubeni's infringement. From that, Aaron Smith stabbed a grubber kick through which his namesake Ben Smith collected before scoring and with Sopoaga off through injury Renata slotted the conversion.
Five minutes later, Malakai Fekitoa further enhanced his growing reputation by exploiting a gaping hole in the hosts' defence before crossing over for the Highlanders' fourth try. Fekitoa raced side-stepped a flat-footed Duane Vermeulen before scoring and when Renata added the extras, the visitors were in front for the first time at 28-26.
The Stormers came back strongly and when Brayden Mitchell was yellow carded, for a tip-tackle on Jaco Taute, Peter Grant kicked the game's first penalty in the 67th minute which restored the hosts' lead and ultimately secured them only their third victory of the season.
Tries: Malherbe 2, De Allende, Kebble
Cons: Coleman 3
Yellow card: Ntubeni (professional foul, 53rd minute)
Tries: A Smith, Renata, B Smith
Cons: Sopoaga 2, Renata 2
Yellow card: Mitchell ( tip-tackle, 66th minute)
Stormers: 15 Jaco Taute, 14 Damian de Allende, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (capt), 11 Kobus van Wyk, 10 Kurt Coleman, 9 Nic Groom, 8 Duane Vermeulen, 7 Schalk Burger, 6 Nizaam Carr, 5 Michael Rhodes, 4 Ruan Botha, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Scarra Ntubeni, 1 Steven Kitshoff.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Oliver Kebble, 18 Brok Harris, 19 Jurie van Vuuren, 20 Siya Kolisi, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Peter Grant, 23 Cheslin Kolbe.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Trent Renata, 10 Liam Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Mani, 7 John Hardie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Joe Wheeler, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Matías Díaz, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Jarrad Hoeata, 20 Shane Christie, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Jason Emery, 23 Phil Burleigh.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)