Highlanders too strong for Rebels
The Highlanders have put in a polished performance to defeat the Melbourne Rebels 27-3 at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
The Dunedin-based outfit kept the Rebels scoreless in the opening 40, dominating possession and displaying a smothering defence to lead 13-0 at the break.
The Rebels enjoyed more ball in the second half, however made errors at crucial times as the pressure from the defending champions proved too much.
The Highlanders controlled most of the ball in the opening 15 minutes and had ten phases within meters of the Rebels’ line but failed to convert their opportunity.
The Rebels had a rare venture into the Highlanders half in the 15th minute, and Jack Debreczeni had the first opportunity to put points on the board, but hit his kick left of the posts from 45 meters out.
Five minutes later Highlanders’ fly-half Lima Sopoaga didn’t make a mistake from his first shot of the night, converting the penalty after the Rebels infringed at the scrum.
The visitors had the first try of the night just moments later, when Rebels fullback Jonah Placid failed to deal with an Aaron Smith box kick and the ball spilled to Rob Thompson who grubbered a kick into the in-goal area and won a foot race with Dom Shipperley to register five points for his side. Sopoaga made the conversion to give the Highlanders a 10-point lead.
The Highlanders dominated first half possession and consistently put the hosts under pressure with well-weighted box kicks from scrum-half Smith. The Rebels succumbed to the pressure by not rolling away at the breakdown and Sopoaga made them pay with another penalty, extending the visitors’ lead to 13-0.
The Rebels had a golden chance to score their first try on 35 minutes when they spread the ball wide and winger Shipperely found a hole, sent Placid through to the try line only to get rundown five meters out. Placid’s attempted return pass to Shipperley found the touchline and snuffed out any chance the Rebels had of scoring before the break.
The visitors went on the attack in the closing minutes of the first half but were twice denied by the Rebels, however they went to halftime with and handy 13-0 lead. It was the first time the Rebels had been kept scoreless in the first half since round 2, 2014.
The Rebels finally got on the scoreboard early in the second half. Debreczeni kicked truly for three points after the Highlanders conceded a penalty for not rolling away at the ruck.
The hosts defended resolutely through the second half and saw more of the ball, however continuously made errors in the face of a well-drilled Highlanders defence that didn’t stop flying off the line to pressure the ball carrier.
The visitor’s defensive pressure was telling when they created a turnover and a chip kick in behind the Rebels’ defence saw Thompson again chasing with purpose and toeing through for winger Jack Wilson to score his first Super Rugby try and extend the score to 20-3.
The Highlander’s bruising defence was on show again, keeping the Rebels at bay for numerous phases before winger Patrick Osborne intercepted a pass and ran 90 meters to touch down in the corner. Sopoaga again made no mistake with the boot to give the Highlanders a 24-point lead.
Both sides had opportunities for more points in the closing minutes, however at full time the Highlanders claimed the 27-3 win.
Next week sees the Rebels travel to Sydney to take on the Waratahs, while the Highlanders return home to Dunedin to play the struggling Western Force.