The Stormers' horror tour of New Zealand has continued, the Highlanders scoring nine tries in a bonus point victory in Dunedin tonight which once again highlighted the difference in class between New Zealand sides and the rest in this competition.
The men from Cape Town had lost only one match before coming here, and included a victory at home against the Chiefs in their list of achievements. They are regarded as one of the better South African teams and have added a new attacking edge to their traditional defensive prowess, but the Crusaders racked up more than 50 against them in Christchurch last weekend and the Highlanders did likewise - their offloading game and variety on attack leaving the Stormers chasing shadows.
In what was a record-breaking win for the Highlanders against the Stormers, it was one-way traffic after loose forward Nizaam Carr scored for the visitors, with the Highlanders running in five tries in the first half and four in the second. Wings Patrick Osborne and Waisake Naholo helped themselves to two each.
To make matters worse, the Stormers play the defending champion Hurricanes in Wellington next and another thrashing at the hands of one of the best attacking sides in the competition looks almost inevitable.
The upshot is the Highlanders, who before this match hadn't quite found their attacking mojo, move to fifth on the table, and, although they have lost three times this season, they are most definitely a force to reckon with.
Halfback Aaron Smith was as sharp as he has been all season and in midfielder Rob Thompson the Highlanders had a dependable presence with the ability to throw a freakish offload. Fullback Ben Smith showed no ill effects from a tweaked ankle early in the match to pull the strings at the back and in Osborne - playing his 50th match for the Highlanders - and Naholo the home side had two devastating attacking weapons.
"We were pretty disappointed with how we played against the Sunwolves. We had a really good training week... and we wanted to put a really good performance out before we headed to South Africa," skipper Ben Smith said afterwards.
It was the Stormers' sixth successive defeat in New Zealand and they face a near impossible task to overturn that streak in Wellington next weekend. The Highlanders had superior skills in terms of handling and offloading, but they also had greater time and space with which to attack.
The Stormers, forced to chase the game almost as soon Osborne replied to Carr's try, weren't given a centimetre by a Highlanders team who looked flat against competition easy-beats the Sunwolves in Invercargill last weekend but looked anything but here.
Liam Squire, otherwise excellent, missed a tackle in the build-up to Carr's score, as did halfback Smith, but it was difficult to remember any other defensive lapses. In fact, Squire, a good show to start at No6 for the All Blacks against the British and Irish Lions following Jerome Kaino's knee injury, led the tackle count with 18.
For the Stormers, fullback SP Marais showed pace and ingenuity but any number of the Highlanders' backs outplayed him and that, really, was the story of the night.
"Physicality is something we pride ourselves on and we definitely didn't bring that today," Stormers skipper Siya Kolisi said.
Highlanders 57 (Patrick Osborne 2, Waisake Naholo 2, Liam Squire, Rob Thompson, Dillon Hunt, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Matt Faddes tries; Marty Banks 5 cons, Fletcher Smith con)
Stormers 14 (Nizaam Carr, Dewaldt Duvenage tries; Robert du Preez 2 cons)