High­landers thrash the Brumbies

Sunday News - - RUGBY - ROBERT VAN ROYEN

THE streak lives on.

It was mostly any­thing but pretty and the fi­nal score­line flat­ters, but the High­landers’ 43-17 win against the Brumbies in Dunedin last night marked the 34th con­sec­u­tive win by Kiwi fran­chises over their Aus­tralian foes.

The bonus point win wasn’t in the can un­til co-cap­tain Ben Smith com­pleted his brace with 13 min­utes to play, hav­ing streaked 60 me­tres down the left­hand flank to kill off the vis­i­tors’ chal­lenge.

To think it wasn’t long after the Brumbies, with a nu­mer­i­cal ad­van­tage after Lima Sopoaga was yel­low-carded for a tip tackle, ap­peared set to go 17-15 up, only for Waisake Na­holo to in­ter­cept a Wharenui Haw­era pass and take it 90m the other way.

As if to rub Brumbies coach Dan McKel­lar’s face in it, after he said dur­ing the week Kiwi teams don’t re­spect Aussie sides, the High­landers ran in three more tries, in­clud­ing one to Fletcher Smith well after the fi­nal hooter.

The win im­proved the High­landers’ record to 4-2, pulling them to within two points of the third-placed Chiefs in the Kiwi con­fer­ence, and with a game in hand.

Per­haps it was down to post­bye rust but it was a scratchy High­landers per­for­mance.

It wasn’t just that their scrum was on the back foot the ma­jor­ity of the night, there were also nu­mer­ous han­dling er­rors and passes fail­ing to find their tar­get.

But, de­spite Brumbies flanker David Po­cock play­ing out of his skin, the High­landers still had far too much class for the Can­berrabased team.

The fact they were on the wrong side of the penalty count (12-2), and outscored the Brumbies 7-0 with Sopoaga, carded in 52nd minute for a tip tackle on Thomas Banks, in the bin, said it all.

The Brumbies had the home side un­der the pump at scrum time, with Al­lan Alaala­toa giv­ing High­landers loose­head Daniel Lienert-Brown all sorts of prob­lems early on.

As a re­sult, O’Ke­effe threat­ened to blow the High­landers off the park as the penalty count read 7-1 in the first half alone.

The ma­jor­ity of those were due to the Brumbies’ scrum dom­i­nance, which also played a huge part in the vis­i­tors’ open­ing try which cut the deficit to 12-10 late in the first half.

It was hulk­ing No 8 Isi Nais­arani who pow­ered over, hav­ing scooped up the ball at the back of a bull­doz­ing scrum and en­sur­ing the dis­al­lowed try to Po­cock (for ac­ci­den­tal off­side) mo­ments ear­lier didn’t sting.

It was a timely score, con­sid­er­ing the ease with which full­back Ben Smith scored as the High­landers took a 12-3 lead in­side the first half hour.

Smith prac­ti­cally went over un­touched from 45m out to fin­ish off a smooth set piece move. It fol­lowed Sopoaga’s opener in the sev­enth minute, after he com­pleted a slick 10-phase raid. are again now play­ing eight in their to­tal of 16 – get­ting a full home and away com­ple­ment against their lo­cal ri­vals, just as they did from 2011-2015.

It’s great for fans and broad­cast­ers’ rat­ings, and it re­duces travel for the teams, but in the Kiwi ranks, the phys­i­cal im­pact is all a bit much, if you ask Cooper.

In his team’s case, they al­ready had a mam­moth in­jury toll go­ing into the sea­son – they’ve fielded seven play­ers who weren’t part of their orig­i­nal squad – and he’s winc­ing at the pun­ish­ment his play­ers are tak­ing week on end.

‘‘Back in the day we didn’t have these der­bies,’’ he said in ref­er­ence to his coach­ing of the Hur­ri­canes from 2003-2010, where Su­per Rugby was a playev­ery­one-once sce­nario and the lo­cal matchups weren’t seem­ingly as piv­otal be­cause there was no con­fer­ence sys­tem.

‘‘I think both camps have got stitches and bruised bod­ies around the place.

‘‘I’m just go­ing ‘man, it’s just tak­ing Su­per Rugby an­other notch up’. I don’t know whether we need to be smash­ing each other like we are, and I think the peo­ple above need to prob­a­bly have a look what’s hap­pen­ing.

‘‘I think it’s just the at­tri­tion of play­ing each other twice. Play­ing once is enough.’’

Chief coach Colin Cooper.

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