Highlanders return to winning ways

The Highlanders returned to the victory trail when they claimed a hard-fought 23-10 victory over the Brumbies in Invercargill on Saturday.

The 2014 champions, who lost their two previous matches, didn't always have things going their way but took control of proceedings as the match progressed and outscored the visitors two tries to one.

The Brumbies, who had a chance to regain the top spot in the Australian Conference, held the upper hand during the game's early stages but failed to capitalise on their chances and are still second on their country's table behind the Rebels.

The result means the Highlanders moved into third place provisionally in the New Zealand Conference although they could drop down to fourth again if the Hurricanes beat the Lions later on Saturday.

The opening half was an attritional affair with both sides battling in slippery underfoot conditions. The Brumbies were dominant during the early stages and were given a numerical advantage when Jack Wilson was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Robbie Coleman, in the 14th minute, but a Christian Lealiifano penalty were the only points they could score during this period.

The rest of the half saw plenty of territorial kicking from both sides and there were few pointscoring opportunities for both sides. The visitors wasted a spelndid chance to score the opening try though – Lealiifano knocking on a Tomás Cubelli pass with the tryline within his sights on the edge of the Highlanders' 22.

The home side eventually got their opening points, on the stroke of half-time, when Lima Sopoaga dived over from close quarters after running onto a pass from Aaron Smith.

Sopoaga added the extras which meant the Highlanders held a slender 7-3 lead at half-time.

The Highlanders continued to dominate in the second half and five minutes after the restart Ben Smith crossed for their second try after Malakai Fekitoa did well with a strong run in the build-up.

The Brumbies didn't take long to respond though and five minutes later, Josh Mann-Rea scored their opening try off the back of a rolling maul deep inside the Highlanders' 22.

Lealiifano converted which meant the game was evenly poised at 14-10 to the hosts but although neither side crossed for further tries the Highlanders secured victory via three Sopoaga penalties inside the final quarter.

The scorers:

For Highlanders:
Sopoaga, B Smith
Cons: Sopoaga 2
Pens: Sopoaga 3
Yellow card: Wilson

For Brumbies:
Con: Lealiifano
Pens: Lealiifano 2

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Jack Wilson, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Shane Christie (cc), 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Siosiua Halanukonuka, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Matt Faddes

Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Nigel Ah Wong, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Christian Lealiifano (c), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Tom Staniforth, 3 Ruan Smith, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Allan Alaalatoa
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Scott Sio, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Rory Arnold, 20 Blake Enever, 21 Jordan Smiler, 22 Joe Powell, 23 James Dargaville

Referee: Nick Briant
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill, Kane McBride
TMO: Aaron Paterson