Highlanders easy pickings for Stormers

THE Stormers will be hoping last Friday night's loss to the Brumbies at Newlands was just a minor blip in their attempt to reach the final of the Super 14 for the first time since its inception in 2006.

Big signings in the off-season of Bryan Habana and Jacque Fourie from the Bulls and Lions, respectively, and the Cape Town-based side looked the real deal in the first two games of the competition. Wins over the Lions (26-13) and the Waratahs (27-6) and already pundits were tipping them to go on to higher honours this year.

But last week's 19-17 loss to the Brumbies brought them crashing back to earth.

Coach Alistair Coetzee will be striving this week to get the team up for Saturday's home clash against the Highlanders.

"There were a few lessons we learnt out there and the defeat really hurt us," Coetzee was quoted as saying shortly after the Brumbies clash.

"Full credit to them for the way they played. They took the points when they were on offer."

The Stormers couldn't have wished for a better draw than this year's - six home games on the trot before embarking on the overseas leg of the competition.

For any chance of a spot in the semifinals - and hopefully the final - they need to bank as many points at home as possible. In the Highlanders there is no better opportunity to score a bonus point.

With one win in three games - over the Cheetahs (31-24) - the Stormers must be odds-on favourites for a five-pointer against the New Zealand side.

At flyhalf for the Stormers Peter Grant is growing into his role and is dictating play with more authority. The added experience and skill of Fourie and Habana also appears to be flowing over in to Grant's game, and the hesitation in his play has disappeared.

With doubt still surrounding the availability of Schalk Burger, who is out with a hamstring injury, Springbok lock Andries Bekker will carry on with the captaincy duties.