HIGHLANDERS 6 STORMERS 21
Bryan Habana of the Stormers attempts to blast past Chris Noakes of the Highlanders. Photo: Getty Images
The Stormers kept the Highlanders tryless and continued their unbeaten Super Rugby season with a comprehensive 21-6 win at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday.
It was a clinical performance from the Stormers, an intimidating effort up front well backed by intelligent kicking, incisive back play and some bruising midfield defence.
Winger Gio Aplon and fullback Joe Pietersen scored first-half tries as the visitors went to halftime leading 15-6 over the Highlanders, who had lost just one game and were just two points behind the Stormers on the table going into the round seven match.
In the 12th minute, captain Jean de Villiers pounced on a Highlanders fumble and toed ahead for Aplon to gather and touch down.
An end-to-end piece of brilliance just on the half-hour mark extended the Stormers' lead, as fullback Pietersen collected an ill-timed Aaron Smith chip kick and launched a counterattack which he ended 90 metres later with a try.
The Highlanders were guilty of wasting the few chances they did create in the first 40 minutes, with a somewhat aimless kicking game never really creating any pressure on the Stormers.
Five-eighth Chris Noakes booted two penalties for the Highlanders.
But they were shut out by a combative South African effort which allowed them neither time nor space for the full 80 minutes.
The second stanza turned into something of an arm wrestle, with two Peter Grant penalties the only addition to the scoreboard.
The Highlanders' pacey backline was smothered, struggling to find any space to launch from, and the home team couldn't even capitalise after Stormers hooker Tiaan Lienberg was yellow carded in the 69th minute for handling on the ground.
The South Africans' line-out was rock solid, with lock Andries Bekker unstoppable in garnering a steady supply of ball.
And although the Highlanders' scrum was competitive, they struggled for front-foot ball, too often rushed as the speed of the Stormers' defensive line kept the pressure ramped up.
STORMERS 21 (Gio Aplon, Joe Pietersen tries; Peter Grant con; Grant 2, Pietersen pens) bt HIGHLANDERS 6 (Chris Noakes 2 pens) at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Referee: Chris Pollock.