Highlanders book play-off spot

Four teams will fight it out to be top dog in the New Zealand conference next week after the Highlanders beat the Jaguares 34-8 on Saturday.

The triumph in Buenos Aires also means that Jamie Joseph's side have booked their place in the knockout stage with a round still to play.

With the Chiefs, Crusaders and Hurricanes winning earlier in the round, the reigning champions followed suit with a bonus-point in Argentina.

Ben Smith, Rob Thompson and Elliot Dixon (2) scored their tries while fly-half Lima Sopoaga sent over 14 points in a superb performance.

In reply the Jaguares' only try came via Juan Martín Hernández as they couldn't back up last weekend's morale-boosting win over the Bulls.

It was a solid first-half from the champions as they crossed for three tries to the Jaguares' one, making it a 24-8 lead at the interval.

In fact it took the visitors just two minutes to open their account at Velez Sarsfield as full-back Smith dived over to cap a well worked try, which involved a sublime pull-back pass from hooker Ash Dixon before fly-half Lima Sopoaga timed his ball to his captain to perfection.

The Jaguares did cut the margin ten minutes later thanks to a penalty from Nicolás Sánchez, after Joe Wheeler offended at a line-out, but it didn't take long for the visitors to respond, this time fortuitously as centre Thompson claimed a stray pass before he strolled over.

Thompson's converted try meant it was now 14-3 to the Highlanders and things would get worse for the hosts when Agustín Creevy limped off. Then followed on the half-hour mark the try of the game. It was a team effort, with offloads aplenty resulting in Dixon scoring.

There was a rare moment of promise for the Jaguares when centre Hernández was sent over on the right wing for a walk-in, but when Sopoaga converted three points on 37 minutes, the buffer was 16 at the break. Few would argue the Highlanders didn't deserve their lead.

Sopoaga extended that margin to 27-8 on 46 minutes when the Jaguares were caught offside and one feared ill-discipline was about to rear its head, due to the frustration the hosts must have been feeling in their game. They had half-an-hour remaining to put things right.

But the Highlanders are not Super Rugby champions for nothing and they closed the game out comfortably, with Dixon powering over from close-range on 64 minutes to make it 34-8 with the extras before Patrick Osborne was a whisker away from their fifth of the evening.

The scorers:

For Jaguares:
Try: Hernández
Pen: Sánchez

For Highlanders:
Tries: B Smith, Thompson, E Dixon 2
Con: Sopoaga 4
Pen: Sopoaga 2
Yellow card: Faddes (78 min – high tackle)

Jaguares: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 12 Juan Martín Hernández, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Javier Ortega Desio, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro
Replacements: 16 Julián Montoya, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Ignacio Larrague, 20 Marcos Kremer, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Matías Orlando, 23 Lucas González Amorosino

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Josh Hohneck
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Te Aihe Toma, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes

Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Referees: Rohan Hoffmann, Federico Anselmi
TMO: Santiago Borsani