March 9, 2018 / 9:00 AM / 3 months ago

Smith grabs brace as Highlanders exploit space to beat Stormers

(Reuters) - Scrumhalf Aaron Smith scored two of the Otago Highlanders’ five tries as his side showcased superb passing and support lines to beat South Africa’s Stormers 33-15 in their Super Rugby clash in Dunedin on Friday.

Rugby Union - Autumn Internationals - Wales vs New Zealand - Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Britain - November 25, 2017 New Zealand's Aaron Smith in action Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra

Flanker Liam Squire, winger Waisake Naholo and number eight Luke Whitelock also crossed for the home side, but the winning margin could have been much bigger had they finished off four other clear-cut opportunities.

Ben Smith was penalised for a double movement just before halftime, while in the second half lock Jackson Hemopo dropped the ball over the line in the tackle of Damian de Allende after they had swept downfield.

Naholo then dropped the ball with the line open from 40 metres out after Matt Faddes had made a superb midfield break, while the winger was called back about five minutes later after Aaron Smith’s pass was ruled forward.

The Highlanders ability to shrug off tacklers and commit multiple defenders, however, was crucial as they ran impressive support lines to back up players who had made a break.

Rugby Union - Autumn Internationals - Wales vs New Zealand - Principality Stadium, Cardiff, Britain - November 25, 2017 New Zealand's Aaron Smith in action Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra

All three of the Highlanders first-half tries to Squire, Smith and Naholo were caused by the pressure they created inside the Stormers’ territory.

The Stormers, who were organised in their own attack and patient in their buildup, had trouble breaching the Highlanders’ defence after lock Chris Van Zyl crossed following some superb interplay between their backs and forwards in the 12th minute.

Their only other try, to impressive teenage flyhalf Damian Willemse, came after he pounced on a dropped ball to sprint 60 metres as his side took a surprise 12-5 lead.

The Highlanders, however, struck back through Smith and Naholo and went into the break leading 19-12 before Whitelock then barrelled over in the first 10 minutes of the second half to give his side a 26-15 lead.

The Stormers continued to hammer away at the Highlanders but made too many errors in the 22-metre area and Smith crossed for his second try, again after some superb passing and exploitation of space, with two minutes remaining to end the scoring.

Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by Peter Rutherford

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