The Highlanders scored six tries in their 40-17 win over the Reds in Dunedin on Friday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The hosts came into this match without co-captain Ben Smith, as well as tactical kingpin Aaron Smith. The absence of the All Blacks duo had no bearing on the performance against a weak Reds side, though.
The Highlanders were physically dominant and tactically superior. They will take some momentum and confidence into the quarter-finals.
The Reds, however, have finished their 2017 Super Rugby campaign on a low note. The visitors battled to live with the Highlanders at the set pieces and collisions. Their defence also left a lot to be desired.
Waisake Naholo latched on to a Malakai Fekitoa pass and bashed his way over the line in the third minute of the contest. James Lentjes handed off Karmichael Hunt on his way to scoring the try of the game.
The Highlanders held a commanding 21-5 lead at half-time. Their defence did well to pressure the Reds in the early stages of the second stanza.
A charge down deep in Reds territory prompted panic among the visitors' defence. The Highlanders won possession and then finished through Tevita Li.
The Highlanders then proceeded to demolish the Reds scrum and win a penalty try. At 33-5, the bonus-point win was in the bag for the hosts.
The Highlanders did concede three tries in this match, though. They will need to improve on their defence if they hope to prevail in the coming quarter-final.
Highlanders – Tries: Waisake Naholo, James Lentjes, Kayne Hammington, Tevita Li, penalty try, Ash Dixon. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (4).
Reds – Tries: Izack Rodda, Alex Mafi, Caleb Timu. Conversion: Quade Cooper.
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 (c), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 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 (c), 1 Sef Fa’agase.
Subs: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Markus Vanzati, 18 Sam Talakai, 20 Reece Hewat, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Hamish Stewart, 23 Jayden Ngamanu.
Photo: Dianne Manson/Getty Images