Rugby: Stormers hand Highlanders first defeat

Stormers 18
Highlanders 6

The Stormers handed the Highlanders their first loss of 2011. Photo / Getty Images
The Stormers handed the Highlanders their first loss of 2011. Photo / Getty Images

The Highlanders are unbeaten no more.

New Zealand's southernmost rugby franchise have suffered their first defeat of this year's Super 15 competition, succumbing 6-18 to the Stormers in another kick-fest at Newlands in Cape Town, South Africa, today (NZT).

Peter Grant's right boot proved to be the difference, the Stormers first five-eighth landing six penalties from seven attempts to account for all of his team's points, as he did last week when nailing seven goals in a 21-15 victory over the Cheetahs.

Grant's opposite, Robbie Robinson, kicked two penalties but he missed three of his five attempts before being replaced by the evergreen Tony Brown early in the second half.

Those missed kicks proved costly in a match where no tries were scored and the whistle of referee Steve Walsh was prominent as both teams struggled with discipline in vital areas of the field.

The Stormers now have three wins from three matches and, with the four points they received from an early bye, moved to second on the overall ladder with 16 points, two behind their countrymen from Durban, the Sharks.

The Highlanders maintain their position atop the New Zealand conference ladder, but they now have just a one-point lead over the charging Crusaders while the Blues would leapfrog both teams with a bonus-point win against the lowly Force in Perth later today.

The Highlanders' defence could not be faulted but they made too many errors to build pressure on the Stormers.

For those who do not consider goalkickers trading penalties to be the height of rugby entertainment, the most exciting moment of the first half was a 35th minute fight between Highlanders lock Jarrad Hoeata and his counterpart, the imposing figure of Andries Bekker, after a ruck.

Hoeata was the instigator and landed the first few blows but referee Steve Walsh was unimpressed with both players and sent them both for a 10-minute spell in the sin bin.

The Stormers led 12-6 at the break after Grant nailed four penalties and Robinson replied with two of his own.

The second half scoring in a bruising encounter was limited to two Grant penalties.

The Highlanders were quick out of the blocks and intent on playing at pace, but their admirable approach cost them at times with errors gifting the home team possession and territory.

Still, it was the Highlanders who came closest to breaking the try deadlock midway through the first half, hooker Jason Rutledge ruled to be held up over the line by the television match official after replays proved inconclusive.

- NZPA

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