South Africa’s Western Stormers staunchly held out against the desperate Otago Highlanders in the dying minutes of their Super 14 match yesterday to clinch an 18-11 win.
After four losses on their tour to Australia and New Zealand, the two tries to one victory ended the Stormers’ unhappy road trip on a high note, although they remain near the foot of the table with three wins from 10 games.
New Zealand’s Highlanders were expected to win and the surprise result appears to put an end to any lingering hopes they had of making the semi-finals.
A despondent Highlanders captain Jimmy Cowan said the last home game of the season had been a night to forget.
“We just didn’t function right in our set pieces and that kept the Stormers in the game,” Cowan said.
The first half was forgettable as both teams struggled for continuity of possession. Neither could breach their opponents’ try-line and the Highlanders’ 6-0 halftime lead was the result of penalties from flyhalf Matthew Berquist in the 25th and 34th minutes.
The Stormers created more opportunities in the opening spell and had a territorial advantage, but were unable to breach the solid Highlanders defense.
The game kicked into a higher gear after the break and the Stormers needed only three minutes to get on the scoreboard through a runaway try to big Fijian winger Sireli Naqelevuki.
An aimless kick by the Highlanders in the opposing half was cleaned up by inside center Peter Grant and his pass found Naqelevuki, who loped 45m to the line.
But the home side bounced back eight minutes later after some inspired play by fullback Israel Dagg, one of the standout players for the New Zealand side this season.
Dagg cut inside his tackler Grant and fired a cut out pass which found right winger Ben Smith with the line beckoning.
The Stormers had the final word with 10 minutes remaining, giving themselves a seven point cushion when Grant went over to capitalize on wave after wave of attacks against the Highlanders line.
After the forwards could not bulldoze their way over, they spread the ball wide and a long final pass from Conrad Jantjes found an unmarked Grant.
FORCE 55, LIONS 14
AP, PERTH, Australia
Departing winger Drew Mitchell scored a try five phases after the kickoff yesterday and the Western Force piled on seven more tries to beat South Africa’s Lions in the Super 14.
Mitchell, who scored in the second minute, confirmed earlier in the day that he planned to sign a contract with the New South Wales Waratahs for next season. He is the second member of the Wallabies to defect from the Force this season following flyhalf Matt Giteau’s decision to return to the ACT Brumbies next year.
It was the Lions’ third loss in four matches on their Australasian road trip. The Force, who were awarded two penalty tries in the match, moved to within a point of the top four, but with only two of six matches completed in the 11th round.
Giteau scored the Force’s second try and kicked the conversion to give the home side a 14-0 lead after 20 minutes. The Force went up 21-0 four minutes later after they were awarded a penalty try when Lions captain Ernst Joubert was sent off for 10 minutes for pulling down Scott Staniforth near the goal line.
The Force led 29-7 at halftime, with Jannie Boshoff scoring the only Lions try of the first half, before Cameron Shepherd gave the Force a four-try bonus point with a minute left in the half.