Sloppy Highlanders ease past Reds
SUPER RUGBY MATCH REPORT: The Highlanders scored a bonus-point 40-17 win over the Reds in Dunedin on Friday, to cement their place in the play-offs.
Despite outscoring their opponents by six tries to three, the home team were not as convincing as they would have hoped - with periods of sloppy play spoiling their obvious superior skills.
The Reds, who dominated possession and territory, offered very little other than pockets of determination.
They went into the match already assured of a play-off spot and will meet either the Crusaders or Lions in next week's quarterfinals.
Despite showing some rustiness, the 2015 champions showed they will be no also-rans in the play-offs, as they adopted a high-tempo passing game against the Reds.
The Reds had nothing to play for and the loss extends Australian teams' losing streak against New Zealand opposition this year to no wins from 24 matches.
The Highlanders needed only two minutes to score their first try, throwing the ball around to stretch the Reds' defence before Waisake Naholo crashed over in the corner.
Flank James Lentjes added another five minutes later, fending off Reds fullback Karmichael Hunt after the Highlanders quick passing again tore apart the visitors' defence.
The Reds finally managed to slow the game and exert pressure but Caleb Timu knocked on with the tryline open in front of him.
Veteran flank George Smith then saved a try on the line for the Reds, only for Highlanders scrumhalf Kayne Hammington to dart over from the back of the resulting scrum.
The Queenslanders patiently worked the ball and were rewarded when lock Izack Rodda scored a pick-and-go try to make it 21-5 at half'-time.
But they had a horror start after the break when replacement scrumhalf Hamish Stewart's kick was charged down and the Highlanders quickly worked the ball to Tevita Li for a try in the corner.
It got worse when they conceded a penalty try on the back of a woeful scrum, blowing out the Highlanders' lead to 33-5.
Alex Mafi narrowed the gap with a pushover try from a maul but Ash Dixon scored the Highlanders' sixth to extend their buffer to 30 points, with Timu managing a consolation try for the Queenslanders.
Man of the match: Izaia Perese had a couple of decent runs and rotund prop Taniela Tupou produced a couple of handy hand-offs and bullied a few backline players - running over opponents half his size. As usual the Highlanders loose forwards were key to their performance - especially flanks James Lentjes and Liam Squire, who share our award.
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Naholo, Lentjes, Hammington, penalty try, Li, Dixon
Cons: Sopoaga 4, penalty try does not require a conversion
For the Reds:
Tries: Rodda, Mafi, Timu
Highlanders: 15 Richard Buckman, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Luke Whitelock (captain), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Gareth Evans, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Patelesio Tomkinson.
Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Izaia Perese, 13 Campbell Magnay, 12 Duncan Paia'aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Adam Korczyk, 7 George Smith, 6 Caleb Timu, 5 Izack Rodda, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Stephen Moore (captain), 1 Sef Fa'agase.
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Markus Vanzati, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Reece Hewat, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Jayden Ngamanu.
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant referees: Jamie Nutbrown; James
TMO: Aaron Paterson