Highlanders lock-in play-offs berth in Buenos Aires

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Lynn McConnell     10 Jul 2016     Getty Images

Greater awareness of the demands for efficiency in setting up counter-attacking opportunities spelled a significant difference between the sides as the defending champions demonstrated all their best qualities and made a statement about their hunger to repeat last season's success. 


Throughout the Highlanders were quickly into position to support any chance whereas the Jaguares, who created several breaks, suffered due to breakdowns. When coupled with a competitive Highlanders lineout which upset key throws, and handling mistakes in attacking situations, it made for a tough night for the home side.

Flanker Elliot Dixon had a big game in the loose, but he needed to because his opposite Pablo Matera and No.8 Facundo Isa were in dynamic form.

Fullback Ben Smith's skills were immediately seen to effect when crossing for the first try two and a half minutes into the game. He made the most of first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga's, who had a controlled game contributing 16 points with his goal-kicking, running probe to score. 

But Smith's skill and experience was evident in the 13th minute when racing wing Manuel Montero to claim a Jaguares kick ahead and then counter-attack. The ball was turned over by the Jaguares but in a cluttered midfield, second five-eighths Rob Thompson got his hands on the ball and cleared out on a 70m run to the line.

If there was any dissatisfaction from the Jaguares about the try they couldn't complain in the 31st minute when the Highlanders pack demonstrated why they are so dangerous. Initially it was Dixon who achieved a superb strip of the ball in a tackle to set the ball in motion.

It was moved right, and then when it came back across to the left flank, No.8 Luke Whitelock, Dixon and flanker James Lentjes demonstrated outstanding handling before Dixon was on the spot to accept an in-pass from Lentjes to score.

The Jaguares had blown several possible scoring opportunities but in the 35th minute some fine counter-attack with a vital recovery by lock Tomas Lavanini created a chance for second five-eighths Juan Martin Hernandez who scored.

The second have proved much more competitive but the Highlanders' defence proved crucial and when substitutes were injected into the game, in the shape of hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate, they made the most of a lineout choice from a penalty with a strong drive before Dixon was on hand to power his way across for a second try.

Scorers: Jaguares 8 (Juan Martin Hernandez tries; Nicolas Sanchez con) Highlanders 34 (Ben Smith, Rob Thompson, Elliot Dixon 2 tries; Lima Sopoaga 4 con, 2 pen). HT: 24-8