Brumbies 13 Highlanders 18

There was still little resemblance to the successful side of recent seasons but the Highlanders at least earned a familiar result.

The early strugglers in the New Zealand conference tonight enjoyed their first taste of foreign opposition, but their nervy victory over the Brumbies would have engendered a sense of relief rather than accomplishment.

Having trailed until the 73rd minute in Canberra, the Highlanders were left to thank a toothless opposition more than their own enterprise. And that's one factor that has remained in short supply in the Highlanders' displays so far this season.

They entered tonight's encounter with only six tries in four games - tied for the most meagre output in the competition - and against the Brumbies added two more while rarely appearing truly dangerous.

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On current evidence, their three-year playoff streak must be under serious threat, although their early issues must come with the caveat of a heavy injury toll.

Tonight they particularly missed the guiding hand of Lima Sopoaga, too often appearing aimless when in possession. Fletcher Smith endured a tough time after starting in the No 10 jersey and it was no surprise to see Marty Banks summoned from the bench at halftime, with the substitute's boot eventually proving the difference.

That's not to say the Highlanders' backline enjoyed a wealth of ball from which to attack, though, with the forward pack that has so often been a strength battling to earn ascendancy against a formidable Brumbies pack.

The southern side's set piece was an adventure at times, encapsulated midway through the first half by what must have been the worst lineout of the season after turning down a shot at goal, and as a result the visitors failed to consolidate possession and build pressure.

With that said, however, the Brumbies were barely any better, guilty of allowing their opposition to stay within touch throughout the match. The home side enjoyed a decent majority of possession and spent plenty of time in the right part of the field but, aside from a clever lineout move that produced Chris Alcock's try, they suffered from a similar surfeit of creativity.

And the Brumbies were made to rue all their wasted possession, with the Highlanders turning two consistent spells of possession into two tries, the first a nice reward for an impressive debut by Sio Tomkinson and the second from Aki Seiuli proving the winning of the match.

Brumbies 13 (C. Alcock try; W. Hawera 2 pens, con)
Highlanders 18 (S. Tomkinson, A. Seiuli tries; M. Banks 2 pens, con)
Halftime: 10-5