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Aaron Smith inspires Highlanders to win

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Sportal.co.nz     04 Apr 2014     Getty Images

A penalty conceded by Rebels captain Scott Higginbotham after they had got back to 30-33 deficit eased the pressure and saw the Highlanders claim a penalty in the last act of the game.

It was a high-scoring contest, but Smith proved electric behind the scrum and in partnership with his first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga whose accuracy achieved 18 invaluable points for his side.

The Rebels were undeterred by the loss of first five-eighths Bryce Hegarty when he fell heavily contesting a high kick with Highlanders wing Richard Buckman. They utilised their ability with their continuity play to create a chance which was taken when halfback Nic Stirzaker broke between Aaron Smith and Gareth Evans and found flanker Scott Fuglistaller at his side to take the pass to score in the tackle.

Four minutes later in the 10th minute Sopoaga kicked a penalty goal but it was the action from the restart that rocked the Rebels. Moving the ball from a turnover in their own 22m the Highlanders made ground first through fullback Ben Smith, and when the ball was moved right, a superb long pass from lock Joe Wheeler found centre Malakai Fekitoa.

He passed to Buckman who headed down the sideline before in-passing to Aaron Smith in the clear, but after he had touched down the TMO confirmed Buckman's pass had drifted forward.

But at the resulting scrum replacement first five-eighths Angus Roberts was unable to control a poor pass from Stirzaker and he was pinned by the defence. A penalty was conceded and Aaron Smith was onto the ball in a flash.

He found Fekitoa, who charged through the line and in the tackle it was flanker Shane Christie who drove over him to score.

While fullback Jason Woodward, who scored 20 points, soon leveled the score with a penalty goal more long-range attack with Fekitoa and second five-eighths Shaun Treeby took play to the Rebels line again, and this time two superb sidesteps by Aaron Smith saw him over for the try.

Having gone to half-time down 13-20, the Rebels upset a Highlanders attack when No.8 Scott Higginbotham intercepted an Aaron Smith pass in his own 22m. He broke downfield and when cornered by the defence he kicked ahead and it was Roberts who won the race to gather the ball and score. Woodward landed a fine sideline conversion to level the scores.

The Highlanders were not cowed however. Firstly a Sopoaga penalty goal, and then a penalty kick into the corner resulted in lineout success opening up the opportunity and after the forwards couldn't do it, the ball was flung wide to the left where fullback Ben Smith was able to score in the 52nd minute.

The Rebels mounted a strong finish, twice eschewing kicks for goal in the quest for try and when replacement halfback Luke Burgess looked to have split the line from a five-metre scrum, his in-pass went to ground and was cleared by the Highlanders.

But from the lineout, an organised move created room for fullback Jason Woodward and he fended off Treeby to go over wide out and score, also adding the conversion from wide out.

Scorers: Highlanders 33 (Shane Christie, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith tries; Lima Sopoaga 3 con, 4 pen) Rebels 30 (Scott Fuglistaller, Angus Roberts, Jason Woodward tries; Jason Woodward 3 con, 3 pen). HT: 20-13