Highlanders 23 Brumbies 10

After losing their last two games by a combined two points, the Highlanders would have taken this one however they could.

Which was a handy mindset to possess on a wet night in Invercargill, because their win over the Brumbies was far from pretty.

Two sides who only a few weeks ago appeared playoff certainties showed plenty of determination and desperation as they sought a slump-busting victory, yet those qualities rarely equated to an appealing product.

For the Highlanders, that mattered little, having in the last fortnight been upset by the Reds and the Sharks. They found a result that kept them on the heels of the pace-setters in the Kiwi conference, with a chance to further close that gap when they head to Hamilton to tackle the Chiefs on Friday.

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For the Brumbies, it was a difficult end to a tumultuous week. Title favourites before being thumped by the Chiefs and Crusaders in the space of three games, the Australian side slipped further down the overall ladder, unable to produce a positive performance to wrestle attention away from a back-room fight that this week spread to the playing squad.

But they came awful close. Lacking a clinical edge and confronted with a defensive effort that showed why the Highlanders came into the contest boasting the third-best defence in the competition, the Brumbies somehow squandered both better field position and a huge weight of possession.

The visitors ended the game having racked up almost five times as many rucks and mauls as their opposition, leaving the Highlanders surely feeling a little sheepish as they emerged on top.

Jamie Joseph would have been thrilled with his side's composure in defence - and perhaps little else. They tackled brilliantly as a team, moving well to fill every gap and hitting hard to earn ascendancy in the contact, while the tireless efforts of their forwards belied the amount of work they were made to do.

It was a good thing the Highlanders were so effective in defence, given they were far less competent when they it was their turn with the ball. An inability to cope with the conditions rendered their running game impotent and, when attempting to attack around the edges and build through phases, unforced errors saw the ball turned over with far too much frequency.

But the boot of Lima Sopoaga was steady throughout the game and, on a couple of occasions, the Highlanders did burst to life with ball in hand. Malakai Fekitoa's burst to create Ben Smith's try early in the second spell was a run fit to grace any match and Sopoaga's opener on the other side of the halftime break showed the invention and vision the Brumbies were missing.

Unlike their opposition, the visitors were successful in their search for a level of ball retention to pile on the pressure, pushing and probing at the Highlanders' defence but struggling throughout to find penetration. Despite their workload, the Highlanders just kept on tackling, ensuring there would have been some sore bodies but a huge amount of satisfaction when the final whistle blew.

Highlanders 23 (L. Sopoaga, B. Smith tries; L. Sopoaga 2 cons, 3 pens)
Brumbies 10 (J. Mann-Rea try; C. Lealiifano pen, con)
Halftime: 7-3