Highlanders go down to inspired Stormers
Local hero Schalk Burger's return from long-term injury and illness has inspired the struggling Stormers to a 29-28 win over the Highlanders in Cape Town this morning.
Burger, in his first game at Newlands since early 2012 after calf and knee injuries, followed by a bout of bacterial meningitis, was instrumental in just the Stormers' third win of the season.
Long-serving Highlanders prop Chris King was unable to celebrate his 100th game for the franchise with a win, while the Highlanders also lost key playmaker Lima Sopoaga to an ankle injury during the game.
Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph was disappointed with a number of errors from his team which put the side under pressure.
''We had prepared for the things that they did and we didn't handle those things in the first five minutes. Letting in a try in the first few minutes is purely a mental lapse. In the end we beat ourselves with a sinbinning and some silly penalties.''
Joseph said a total of seven points from their trip to South Africa, with two bonus points coming this morning after a bonus point win over the Sharks last week, represented a solid return.
''Points-wise we have to be happy with what we've done in South Africa, but I honestly think that we had created opportunities that we could have had 10 [points]. Right up until the 78th minute we looked like we were going to get 10.''
In a game played at frenetic pace, the Highlanders got off to a poor start when they failed to accept the opening kick off and the Stormers were able to score through prop Frans Malherbe inside the first two minutes.
Aaron Smith struck back for the Highlanders, scooting through a gap next to the ruck and then chipping the fullback and winning the race for the ball.
Although rookie first five Kurt Coleman missed a routine penalty from in front of the posts, it was only a matter of time before the weight of possession and territory the Stormers were enjoying began to tell.
Malherbe scored a second from a no look pass by Burger and then an overthrown lineout helped the Stormers outflank the Highlanders defence and score in the corner through Damian de Allende.
The Highlanders were able to drag a few points back with a try to Trent Renata before halftime when Lima Sopoaga put a kick through and Ben Smith was able to cleverly keep it in play.
Replacement prop Oliver Kebble crashed over with half an hour to go for the Stormers' bonus point try but the Highlanders were able to fight their way back into the game when the home team lost hooker Scarra Ntubeni to the sinbin.
All Blacks Aaron and Ben Smith combined for the Highlanders third try from the ensuing 5m scrum to cut the deficit to five points before Malakai Fekitoa continued his outstanding form with a try which helped put the visitors into the lead for the first time.
The Highlanders were reduced to 14 men themselves with 15 minutes left after replacement hooker Brayden Mitchell was binned for a lifting tackle, with Peter Grant adding the penalty to give the Stormers a 29-28 lead.
The Highlanders had a couple of hairline decisions go against them over the final minutes before the Stormers were able to get out of danger territory and bank the win.
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak the Highlanders had been enjoying, although they will return home with seven competition points from their two games in South Africa, with a Saturday game against the Lions in Dunedin.
They will be monitoring the progress of Sopoaga's ankle after he rolled it 25 minutes into the game but managed to limp his way to halftime, laying on Renata's try in the process.
Patrick Osborne, who aggravated an ankle injury during the win over the Sharks, is likely to be out for another couple of weeks.
Stormers 29 (Frans Malherbe 2, Damian de Allende, Oliver Kebble tries; Kurt Coleman 3 con, Peter Grant pen) Highlanders 28 (Aaron Smith, Trent Renata, Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa tries; Lima Sopoaga 2 con, Renata 2 con). HT: 19-14