Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Haskell cited for punch in Highlanders' win

James Haskell of the Highlanders during the 2012 Super Rugby match between Toyota Cheetahs and Highlanders . Photo / Getty Images.
James Haskell of the Highlanders during the 2012 Super Rugby match between Toyota Cheetahs and Highlanders . Photo / Getty Images.

The Highlanders seem to like doing things the hard way and that continued today with their remarkable 36-33 victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

Their win was completely against the odds. They were behind on the scoreboard for 79 minutes and played the final stages of the first half with 13 men due to the sinbinning of forwards Andrew Hore and James Haskell.

Hooker Hore had been sent to the bin for a ruck infringement but Haskell joined him due to alleged foul play - he has been cited for striking Cheetahs' loose forward Justin Downey twice when leaving a scrum. A suspension for Haskell is likely.

With a quarter of the match to go, the Highlanders were down 30-9 and yet, somehow, they found a way to win.

That has become a theme this season. Only one of their seven victories has been by more than four points - and that was the 43-12 whitewashing of the Rebels in Dunedin.

The rest have been nailbiters, in doubt until the final seconds. Their 23-19 win over the Chiefs in round one in Hamilton was relatively comfortable compared with the wins over the Crusaders, Blues and Cheetahs (three points), Hurricanes (two points) or Waratahs (one point).

The Cheetahs should have won this morning's (Sunday) match but for some sloppy defence and a howler of a penalty miss at the end. Needing three converted tries just to draw level, the visitors duly delivered via Jimmy Cowan, twice, and Chris Noakes.

Amidst the try-scoring frenzy the Cheetahs scored a penalty through replacement Sias Ebersohn, however, he became a villain for the home side when with two minutes left and the score 33-33, he missed a penalty from in front and only 20m out.

The Highlanders went down the other end, earned a much more difficult penalty attempt, and Noakes coolly kicked it.

The victory kept the southerners second in the New Zealand conference and in fifth place overall. They have a difficult assignment against the Sharks in Durban next weekend, for which flanker Haskell is likely to be unavailable, but self belief will not be an issue.

That mental state also applies to the Chiefs, who maintained their lofty place on the overall table with a straightforward 33-14 win over the Hurricanes at Waikato Stadium last night (Saturday).

The Chiefs showed no signs of fatigue despite their trip back from South Africa during the week and although the Hurricanes displayed more nous than in their defeat to the Crusaders a week earlier, a victory for the home side was never in doubt.

"I'm just happy we could get a win and keep the ball rolling,'' said co-captain Craig Clarke, after playing in his 50th Super Rugby match.

"They're a very good team and we just wanted to hold the ball, which we did a bit, and kick a few penalties.''

Prop Sona Taumalolo continued his try-scoring spree - he leads the competition's try-scoring list with seven, alongside Hurricanes' fullback Andre Taylor, who also dotted down in Hamilton.

With a relatively easy match against the Lions at Pukekohe next for the Chiefs, coach Dave Rennie is looking forward to giving some of his leading players a welcome rest.

The Blues' slide into irrelevance continued with a tactically inept 23-11 loss to the Reds at Eden Park on Friday. Not only were the Blues exposed in the opening minutes when the Reds scored twice through Digby Ioane, back from suspension, and Luke Morahan, they continued to attack while in their own half despite the rain and difficult handling conditions.

It was the first time the Reds have won at Eden Park.

The Hurricanes will fancy their chances of beating the Blues twice this season when hosting Pat Lam's men in Wellington on Friday.

- APNZ

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