Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Highlanders do it the hard way

Shane Christie of the Highlanders charges up the middle during the round eight Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Rebels at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.
Shane Christie of the Highlanders charges up the middle during the round eight Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Rebels at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.

Highlanders 33
Rebels 30

The Highlanders have scrapped to an untidy victory over the Rebels tonight, but coach Jamie Joseph isn't likely to care a jot - with three wins they have already equalled their total for the whole of last season.

The Rebels are traditionally tricky customers, too, another reason why Joseph will be extremely happy to bank these four competition points under the Dunedin roof. Last year in Melbourne his side were up 31-7 only for an extraordinary turnaround by the Rebels, who scored their final try after the full-time hooter to win 38-37.

There was almost another boilover here, Jason Woodward's excellent try setting up a brilliant finish. Pressing for the bonus point until the end, the Highlanders would have been relieved to just finish in front.

With men such as Wallabies loose forward Scott Higginbotham in their midst, the Rebels are rarely out of a match but sometimes they push the limits.

Blindside flanker Sean McMahon was extremely fortunate not to be sent to the sinbin only minutes after halftime for his dangerous lifting tackle on Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith.

In Higginbotham the Rebels have one of the best loose forwards in this competition _ his intercept of Aaron Smith's pass when hard on defence, and subsequent 50m run and left-foot kick, led directly to a try to first-five Angus Roberts after halftime and brought them right back into it. It was a brilliant show of skill and speed, but the special moments from the visitors were too few and mixed in with too many errors, especially in their own half.

They also missed first-five Bryce Hegarty, who went off with concussion very early.

The Highlanders were deserved winners but their tendency to switch off will be one thing concerning Joseph. Aaron Smith, fullback Ben Smith and centre Malakai Fekitoa were their standouts in the backs, flanker Shane Christie one of their best up front.

They were shut out by the Blues at Eden Park last weekend, but tonight their speed of thought and feet quickly had the Rebels in trouble, although they had to respond to going a try down after flanker Scott Fuglistaller went over.

In reply, Aaron Smith's quick penalty tap from in front was quickly capitalised on, Christie scoring his first try at this level after getting to the ruck quickest.

Aaron Smith, who earlier had a try ruled out following a forward pass by wing Richard Buckman, found the line after dodging two would-be defenders, including fullback Woodward, with two outrageous sidesteps.

Roberts' try after the break evened it up at 20-20, with Ben Smith, capitalised on big numbers on the left for the Highlanders, pushing the score out to 30-20 but the Rebels refused to yield.

Pressing extremely hard in the final few minutes, they scored a brilliant set piece try through Woodward, the former Wellington player in extremely good form. He was partly at fault for missing the tackle as Aaron Smith scored his try in the first half, but his powerful run and fend on Shaun Treeby as the Rebels ran from a lineout set up the match for a brilliant finish.

Highlanders 33 (Shane Christie, Aaron Smith, Ben Smith tries; Lima Sopoaga 4 pens, 3 cons)

Rebels 30 (Scott Fuglistaller, Angus Roberts, Jason Woodward tries; Jason Woodward 3 pens, 3 cons)


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