Highlanders thrash the Brumbies
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.