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Perfect quarterfinal tune-up for the Highlanders

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allblacks.com     14 Jul 2017     Getty Images

It wasn’t a perfect display from the Highlanders but there were enough moments of dominance and attacking brilliance to worry whoever the southern side strikes in the quarterfinals next week.

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Playing in their first Super Rugby match since the June break, the Highlanders started the match at break-neck speed to score two tries in the opening ten minutes. The first came with just two minutes gone when the returning Liam Squire burst into space and fed Waisake Naholo for a neat finish.

After dominating the next five minutes with sweeping ball movement across the field, openside flanker James Lentjes laid on the fend of the season to send Karmichael Hunt sprawling and charge over the line to make it 14-0.

It looked as though the Highlanders were set to rack up a huge score, but the Reds showed they weren’t going to roll over by starving the home side of ball for a 20-minute passage and creating a couple of genuine scoring opportunities.

As has become an all too regular sight for the Reds this season, they couldn’t finish their chances and were immediately punished for an error of their own. The Highlanders forced a five metre scrum and halfback Kayne Hammington darted over from the base of the scrum to make it 21-0.
The Reds were finally rewarded on the stroke of halftime when lock Izack Rodda barged over from a quick tap to make it 21-5 at the break.

While it took the Highlanders two minutes to open the scoring in the first half, they were even quicker in the second half when Tevita Li scored with a spectacular dive in the corner as the Highlanders capitalised on another Reds error.

With the lead stretched to 33-5 after a penalty try from a five metre scrum, the Reds were never realistically going to challenge the Highlanders, but they never gave in and controlled the game for small phases as the home side seemed to take the foot off in the final 20 minutes.

Well-worked tries to reserve hooker Alex Mafi and loose forward Caleb Timu showed the Reds had genuine try-scoring potential but they simply made too many errors to remain competitive.

The Highlanders final try was scored by reserve hooker Ash Dixon to underscore their bench strength as a quarterfinal beckons in either Christchurch against the Crusaders or Johannesburg against the Lions.

Co-captain Luke Whitelock said: “We knew this was our last home game and we love playing under the roof in front of our fans. We created a lot of opportunities but we weren’t as ruthless as we should be in finishing, so there’s a few tweaks to be made.”

SCORERS: Highlanders 40 (Waisake Naholo, James Lentjes, Kayne Hammington, Tevita Li 2 tries, penalty try, Lima Sopoaga 4 con) Reds 17 (Izack Rodda, Alex Mafi, Caleb Timu tries, Quade Cooper con)
HT: 21-5