For a second week in a row the Stormers conceded a record score against a team from New Zealand as they plummeted to a third successive Super Rugby defeat.
Highlanders 57 (31) Stormers 14 (7)
The Stormers’ season‚ which started so promisingly with six straight wins‚ including a superb victory against the Chiefs at Newlands‚ is imploding.
For a second week running the Cape Town side conceded 50 points and the swagger and style of the first two months of the tournament has given way to indecision and errors.
Without a specialist openside flank the Stormers breakdown has been second best on tour in NZ. And without being able to generate quick ball‚ or slow opposition ball‚ they have been at sea.
Captain Siya Kolisi was asked to play openside on Friday – a position he has clearly stated he does not enjoy. Coach Robbie Fleck has to take the blame for gambling with his back row against such ruthless opponents.
The Highlanders were merciless at using the momentum they gained at the breakdown to exploit the slightest weakness scoring nine tries‚ through a combination of great handling‚ excellent options and a superb kicking game.
The previous week the Stormers conceded eight tries against the Crusaders and serious questions have to be asked about their defensive structure.
Wing Cheslin Kolbe was guilty of shooting up looking for the interception instead of staying on his man while there were also too many one on one tackles missed.
Throw in 27 handling errors and 28 missed tackles and the mistake count was just too high against a team filled with game breakers.
Despite scoring the opening try of the match – a real gem by No 8 Nizaam Carr – with several players involved in the build up‚ it was all Highlanders in the first half.
With the brilliant Aaron Smith pulling the strings at scrumhalf and Ben Smith directing play from fullback‚ the Stormers had no answers.
Wing Patrick Osborne scored two first half tries‚ simply finishing off moves that created space out wide. Right wing Waisake Naholo also scored a first half try while the effervescent No 8 Liam Squire and inside centre Rob Thompson added the others in the first stanza.
The game was over at halftime and much like against the Crusaders it was all the Stormers for the opening 15 minutes of the second half.
But fizzing attack of the opening weeks of the campaign‚ gave way to static one-off runners‚ which the Highlanders comfortably dealt with despite having to make a huge amount of tackles in that period.
Inevitably all the Stormers’ efforts ended with lock Jan de Klerk throwing a speculative pass five metres from the Highlanders’ goal-line instead of securing possession and setting up another ruck.
From the turnover and subsequent hack ahead‚ Naholo enjoyed a kind bounce to finish a 95-metre move‚ which was a microcosm of the gap in class between the sides.
The home side refused to ease up though and added three more tries from flank Dillon Hunt‚ hooker Greg-Pleasants-Tate and centre Matt Faddes.
Stormers scrumhalf Dewaldt Duvenage scored five minutes from time but it wasn’t enough to stave off a record loss to the Highlanders – surpassing 1999s 46-14 defeat.
Highlanders – Tries: Patrick Osborne (2)‚ Waisake Naholo (2)‚ Liam Squire‚ Rob Thompson‚ Dillon Hunt‚ Greg Pleasants-Tate‚ Matt Faddes. Conversions: Marty Banks (5)‚ Fletcher Smith (1).
Stormers – Tries: Nizaam Carr‚ Dewaldt Duvenage. Conversions: Rob du Preez (2).
- TMG Digital/TMG Sport/Times Live
PHOTO: Siya Kolisi during the DHL Stormers training session at HPC, Bellville on February 21, 2017 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Image by: Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images