Stormers moved off the bottom of the Super Rugby table on Saturday as they claimed just a third victory of the season by edging the Highlanders 29-28 at Newlands.
Prop Frans Malherbe ensured the Stormers made a brisk start as he touched down in the first minute, before his score was quickly cancelled out by a moment of brilliance from Aaron Smith.
However, Malherbe doubled his tally midway through the first period and Damien de Allende also touched down as the Stormers regained their lead, before Trent Renata’s try kept the Highlanders in touching distance at the break.
Oliver Kebble went over for the Stormers’ fourth shortly after the break but the Highlanders took advantage of Scarra Ntubeni’s sin-binning as Ben Smith and Malakai Fekitoa raced home to put them back in front, only for a Peter Grant penalty to steal victory for the hosts.
With the visitors failing to control the kick-off, the Stormers made a flying start as they raced through 10 phases before Malherbe forced his way over the whitewash and Kurt Coleman, making his first start of the season, added the extras.
The Highlanders’ riposte came courtesy of a superb solo effort from scrum-half Smith five minutes later.
All Black international Smith offered a reminder of his ingenuity as he chipped over the Stormers defence before racing through to touch down his own kick and Sopoaga made no mistakes with the conversion.
Coleman’s lack of experience – the 24-year-old making only his fourth Super Rugby appearance – was evident as he struck the woodwork with the simplest of penalties.
Despite missing out on the opportunity to take the lead, Stormer continued to attack and almost scored a second try when Jaco Taute dove for the corner, only for the full-back to be denied by an excellent tackle from flanker Elliot Dixon.
Allister Coetzee’s side continued to pressurise the Highlanders defence, which buckled just before half-an-hour as prop Malherbe charged through to score his second of the match.
The relentless Stormers soon added a third as Juan de Jongh exposed a gap in the Highlander backline and set up De Allende, who raced home down the right flank.
Highlanders hit back before the break as Renata latched onto the end of full-back Smith’s chip through and Sopoaga’s conversion reduced the visitors’ arrears to five at the break.
The hosts made a positive return from interval and claimed their first bonus-point try of the season as their pack terrorised the Highlanders defence once more.
Kebble was the man in possession as they crashed over the line and Coleman reopened a 12-point gap between the sides as he added the extras.
However, when Stormers hooker Ntubeni was shown a yellow card for cynical play, the door was open to a Highlanders comeback.
The visitors made their personnel advantage pay from the restart All Black flyer Smith raced onto the end of a grubber kick and Renata’s conversion brought the Highlanders within five.
Just four minutes later, Fekitoa slipped through the Stormers defence to claim a bonus-point try for the Dunedin-based franchise and Renata’s second successful conversion nudged the visitors in front.
Stormers clinched victory after Highlanders replacement prop Brayden Mitchell was sin-binned for an illegal tackle, with Grant slotting home the subsequent penalty.
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