Highlanders ease past willing Sunwolves
SUPER RUGBY REPORT: It was far from perfect, but the Highlanders got a full-house five points from their 40-15 win over the Sunwolves on Saturday.
The Highlanders spluttered and stuttered in the first half, but a three-try blitz in a 10-minute period early in the second half out the game beyond doubt.
The Sunwolves, as always very willing, replied with two tries of their own.
However, they were never a threat to the Highlanders, who seemed able to turn it on when they needed to.
The Highlanders continued their rebound from a disappointing start to the season.
After winning just one of their first four matches, the Highlanders have now won their next four in a row.
While the scoreline looked overwhelming, Highlanders captain Ben Smith admitted it was not a perfect performance.
"We threw a few miracle balls and didn't show them respect and they made us pay at times," he said.
"There's a bit to work on. We've got a home game against the Stormers so we'll look to fix a few things up and look forward to that game next weekend."
Outside of their scoring spree on either side of half-time points did come easily for the 2015 champions.
In a first half struggle, the Sunwolves enjoyed a territorial advantage, during which Yu Tamura landed a handy penalty, but for much of the time they were guilty of kicking away possession.
It was a questionable tactic against a Highlanders' backline featuring All Blacks Ben and Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa and Waisake Naholo, as well as former New Zealand Sevens rep Matt Faddes.
Fekitoa had them on the board after only four minutes from turnover ball on the halfway line which moved through seven sets of hands before the midfielder touched down.
But it would be 30 minutes before the Highlanders would score again when Liam Squire launched their scoring spree and Aaron Smith also touched down before the break.
With the Sunwolves still flat immediately after the resumption, Faddes scored twice and Ben Smith also crossed the line.
Flyhalf Marty Banks' conversion attempt of Smith's try was astray which was his first miss of the season after 24 successful shots at goal.
With the margin extended to 40-3 in favour of the Highlanders, the Sunwolves regained their composure and came back with two tries of their own.
South African-born back row forward Willie Britz, who has previously played for the Lions and Cheetahs, scored their first try and Australian Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco added the second.
The Highlanders, now with five wins from eight games, host the Stormers next week while the Sunwolves, who have lost seven of eight games, play the Chiefs.
Man of the match: Willie Britz, Sam Wykes and Ed Quirk never stopped trying and Britz was rewarded with a try. You can always bank on players like Ben and Aaron Smith, Matt Faddes and Mart Banks to spark and entertain. However, our award goes to Highlanders flank Dillon Hunt, who was not even named in the original matchday squad, but turned out to be their most productive player.
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Fekitoa, Squire, A Smith, Faddes 2, B Smith
Cons: Banks 4
For the Sunwolves:
Tries: Britz, Warren-Vosayaco
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Matt Faddes, 12 Malakai Fekitoa, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Teihorangi Walden, 23 Sio Tomkinson.
Sunwolves: 15 Kotaro Matsushima, 14 Takaaki Nakazuru, 13 William Tupou, 12 Timothy Lafaele, 11 Yasutaka Sasakura, 10 Yu Tamura, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Willem Britz, 7 Yuhimaru Mimura, 6 Edward Quirk (captain), 5 Uwe Helu, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Yasuo Yamaji, 2 Yusuke Niwai, 1 Keita Inagaki.
Replacements: 16 Takeshi Kizu, 17 Koki Yamamoto, 18 Heiichiro Ito, 19 Shinya Makabe, 20 Rahboni Warren Vosayaco, 21 Yuki Yatomi, 22 Hayden Cripss, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)