Stormers strangle Highlanders in victory
The DHL Stormers produced another excellent display of aggressive defence to consolidate their lead at the top of the Vodacom Super Rugby log, as they beat the Highlanders 21-6 in Dunedin on Saturday.
A lot can be said of the Stormers attack during this season’s competition, but there is one aspect that surely nobody in either hemisphere can argue with -- they certainly do have the best defensive system in world rugby today.
Often it is said that defence is an attitude and too often South African sides have hidden behind the travel factor for below par performances in the Antipodes. But this year, thanks to some sterling performances by the Cheetahs and Sharks overseas, the mindset seems to be totally different.
And here the Stormers were a breed apart. From the kickoff they denied the Highlanders room to move, were in their faces and aggressive in the tackle. They rattled their opposition into mistakes, swarmed them on defence and fed off the scraps they were given.
In the history of Super Rugby few performances match the level of commitment and dedication that this one did. It was a victory of heart, a victory of desire and a victory of determination for a Stormers side comfortable with their role as the pace-setters of the tournament.
Even when it seemed they were dropping off in the last 20 minutes, and hooker Tiaan Liebenberg was yellow carded, they simply galvanised themselves more, shut the open door and simply allowed nothing in.
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On a night where any one of the 15 could have got the man of the match award for defense, it was the attacking spark that stood out. So often the problem for a side in defensive mode, the Stormers backline got their share of ball, and had a rock at the back in the form of Joe Pietersen who was masterful on the evening.
In a game where only two tries were scored, Pietersen was everywhere on defence, calm under pressure and used the space given on the counter attack to set up some great attacking play.
But the coup de grace for the fullback was his individual try, where he saw a gap, accellerated before chipping over the defence, collected and scored an excellent individual try.
It came after earlier Jean de Villiers’s predatory instincts led to try No 1. A dropped pass in the midfield was toed through by De Villiers twice. The bobbling ball was a wonderful target for a speedster. Enter Gio Aplon and seven points were a given.
The two strikes were all that were needed as the Highlanders, with all the ball in possession, found little in the way of penetration. They tried different tactics, used the boot, spread it wide and punched up the middle.
Each time though they found a brick wall repelling them in stern fashion.
This year’s competition may still require a bit more attacking nuance to bring a title back to Cape Town.
But in the depths of Dunedin, in the cold crispy New Zealand air, the Stormers defence laid down another marker.
Teams all over the Southern Hemisphere will have to top their defensive resolve if they are to stop them now.
Highlanders – Penalty: Chris Noakes(2).
DHL Stormers – Tries: Gio Aplon, Joe Pietersen. Conversion: Peter Grant. Penalties: Joe Pietersen, Peter Grant(2).