Marty Banks kicked 12 points to guide the Highlanders to a 20-13 win over the Reds in Dunedin on Friday, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
On the evidence of this damp squib of a contest, neither side should harbour any intentions of a play-off berth this season. It may be early days yet, but both teams were desperately poor in a match littered with handling errors and penalties.
It had all started so encouragingly, with both teams giving the ball plenty of air, resulting in some end-to-end action. Unfortunately, with the scrums in disarray and neither team able to take the ball through phases, the match quickly descended into mediocrity.
Banks assumed the kicking duties for the Highlanders, after Lima Sopoaga missed the match for personal reasons, and it was his three penalties that proved the difference at half-time. James O'Connor, starting his first match for the Reds, responded with a penalty of his own as the visitors trailed 9-3 at the break.
The Highlanders changed tact at the start of the second half, kicking for the corner in a bid to set up a rolling maul but, not for the first time, they failed to control the ball at the back. The first try would come from the visitors in the 51st minute, with Jake Schatz going over after a comedy of errors at the base of a 5m scrum.
Banks would restore the Highlanders' lead five minutes later with another penalty, before both sides rang the changes in a bid to up the intensity. The move paid off for the hosts when, after a period of sustained pressure, Waisake Naholo crossed for a well-worked try.
Hayden Parker, on as a replacement for Banks, made the game safe with another penalty, before another O'Connor penalty ensured the Reds finished within seven points.
Highlanders – Try: Waisake Naholo. Penalties: Marty Banks (4), Hayden Parker.
Reds – Try: Jake Schatz. Conversion: James O'Connor. Penalties: O'Connor (2).
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Jason Emery, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8Nasi Manu (c), 7 John Hardie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Brendon Edmonds.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Josh Hohneck, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Kurt Baker.
Reds – 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony Fainga'a, 11 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Marco Kotze, 4 Dave McDuling, 3 Sam Talakai, 2 Saia Fainga'a, 1 James Slipper (c).
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Ben Daley, 18 Sef Faagase, 19 Tom Murday, 20 Curtis Browning, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Sam Johnson, 23 Campbell Magnay.
Photo: Rob Jefferies/Getty Images