Malakai Fekitoa got the better of JP Pietersen and had the greater influence on the game at Kings Park on Saturday, writes JON CARDINELLI.
The Sharks may have won the war in Durban, but Fekitoa prevailed in his one-on-one battle with a more experienced opponent.
It is not often that two No 13s come face to face in a big match. In this fixture, however, Fekitoa and Pietersen met on several occasions. The Highlanders outside centre often won the physical battle, and beat Pietersen for pace.
In one instance towards the end of the first half, Fektioa danced around Pietersen to keep his side moving forward. After missing his man, Pietersen was forced to turn and chase Fekitoa down. He eventually caught Fekitoa, but not before the danger man had made some impressive gains.
Pietersen did pull off a couple of stunning tackles, one on Fekitoa himself. However, these big plays were too few and far between.
The Sharks bossed the forward exchanges and so the Highlanders backs didn't receive much front-foot ball. Where the visitors did excel was on the counter-attack, and when Fekitoa received his chance in the first half, he made it count.
Ben Smith put Fekitoa through a gap, and the All Blacks outside centre then proceeded to hand off some would-be tacklers. After that display of power, he showed exceptional speed to evade the cover defence and complete a fantastic try for the Highlanders.
Fekitoa was a hero in that moment, and would have been the Man of the Match if he had intercepted a Sharks pass in the 78th minute.
He had read the play perfectly, but couldn't time his run well enough to get his hands on the ball. If he hadn't knocked on, it would have been an interesting race to the line. A try at that stage would have seen the Highlanders reclaiming the lead and probably winning the game.
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