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Fighting against a high penalty count, the Highlanders got home at Forsyth Barr Stadium last night, eventually pulling away to beat the Stormers 33-15 after leading 19-15 at the break.
The visiting team threw plenty at the Highlanders and never shirked the physical challenge.
But the Highlanders had that attacking class when it mattered the most.
Waisake Naholo, Aaron Smith and Ben Smith all made some key plays and had a hand in putting together some splendid moves.
Then when they did not have the ball, the Highlanders defence stood tall eventually, although the tackling was scratchy to start with.
Let’s be honest — it was not perfect from the Highlanders. They gave away far too many penalties and left at least three tries out there through some inaccurate finishing.
But good teams win games when it is not going all hunky-dory.
And that is what the Highlander did.
They did enough in defence and when they got the ball they sent the Stormers into reverse gear at a rapid rate of knots.
Possession is king in the game this year — getting turnovers are rare and the Highlanders did not get a lot of ball to play with.
But when they did, they scored five nice tries and always looked threatening on attack.
The Highlanders sealed the game with a try to Aaron Smith with three minutes left, after a nice move down the blindside.
That also gave the side a bonus point, which is shaping up to be important again this season.Best for the Highlanders were the Smiths, Naholo and flanker Dillon Hunt, while hooker Liam Coltma had his usual high work rate.
The first 20 minutes was all action with some splendid attack and some not-so-good defence.
The Highlanders had their first try after just three minutes.
As a team can do under these new rules, the home team just rolled up the field and when midfielder Tei Walden made a half break near the line, Liam Squire was inside him and the big loose forward went over.
But the Highlanders executed poorly from the kick-off and the Stormers made the most of it.
The South Africans recycled the ball well and it eventually went to big lock Chris van Zyl who crashed over.
After 15 minutes the Stormers took the lead when a wayward pass in the Highlanders midfield was picked up by speedy Stormers first five-eighth Damian Willemse. He simply pinned his ears back and ran 70m untouched to score.
The Stormers lead, however, did not last long.
Naholo got the ball at the halfway line and proceeded to run through three tacklers. Naholo is a powerful runner but the Stormers defence was weak.
Naholo simply inpassed to Aaron Smith who went over to tie the game up 12-12.
The Fijian flier then added a try on the 30-minute mark to put his side in front. He caught the ball from a high kick, it was quickly moved down the right and Naholo took the in-pass from Rob Thompson to go over untouched.
Aaron Smith 2, Liam Squire, Waisake Naholo, Luke Whitelock tries; Lima Sopoaga 4 con
Chris van Zyl, Damian Willemse tries; SP Marias con, pen
Halftime: 19-15 Highlanders