The Stormers moved back to the top of the Super Rugby ladder with a 23-13 victory over defending champions the Queensland Reds in Brisbane yesterday.
The Stormers started magnificently then held off a resurgent Queensland to record their seventh win of the season against only one defeat.
The Reds appeared shell-shocked in the first half as they faced a rampant Stormers, who attacked from everywhere with their back three of Gio Aplon, Gerhard van den Heever and Joe Pietersen dangerous every time they touched the ball.
Queensland were also rocked by the loss of flyhalf Sam Lane and outside center Ben Tapuai to injury inside the first 10 minutes.
The Stormers defended solidly throughout and counterattacked whenever they had the chance, keeping the home side under enormous pressure.
“We worked on our counterattack during the week — we wanted to take them on physically and we wanted to counterattack a bit more and we pulled it off,” Stormers captain Duane Vermeulen said.
The Stormers were switched on from the outset and they opened the scoring in just the second minute with a Peter Grant penalty.
Queensland then suffered a huge blow almost off the restart when Lane injured his knee and had to be replaced.
Gio Aplon then crossed the line after a length-of-the-field counterattack, which also saw Tapuai injured.
Queensland held on desperately as the Stormers looked to assert their dominance and were next to score through a penalty from replacement flyhalf Ben Lucas, himself returning after a four-week injury break.
However, just as the Reds began to claw their way back, the Stormers scored again when Grant crossed after another full-pitch counterattack to send the visitors into the break leading 17-3.
Queensland needed to score first after halftime and they went desperately close when lock Rob Simmons barged over only to lose the ball as he was attempting to touch down.
A second Grant penalty put the visitors out to a commanding 20-3 lead, but Reds were working their way back into the match and were rewarded when skipper James Horwill took a wayward Stormers lineout throw and crossed for a converted try with 20 minutes to go.
Queensland threw everything at the Stormers, but couldn’t breach their superb defense despite having most of the territory and possession.
A penalty from Mike Harris got them within a converted try with three minutes left, but Grant’s third penalty right on fulltime put the gap back to 10 points to deny the defending champions a bonus point.
“We felt we created enough opportunities to win that game, but didn’t convert,” Horwill said. “We have to be a lot more clinical in what we do.”
HIGHLANDERS 30, BLUES 27
AFP, DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND
The Highlanders’ SOS call to former All Black Mike Delaney paid off yesterday as they snatched a win over the Blues in a penalty-dominated Super Rugby clash.
The veteran Delaney returned from Japan to plug an injury gap in the Highlanders’ ranks. He kicked six penalties and a conversion against five penalties and a conversion for Blues rookie Gareth Anscombe.
It is the first time the Highlanders have beaten the Blues since 2006. Their sixth win from eight games kept them in the top six, while the star-studded Blues slumped to their seventh loss and are at the bottom of the table.
The lead changed 10 times in the match with both sides scoring two tries, one in each half. And it was the Blues’ desire for a third try to keep alive their slim hopes of still making the final six that cost them the chance of a draw.