Highlanders 51 Rebels 12

If the Super Rugby organisers needed any other reason to look at cutting an Australian team from the competition, this was it.

As the old saying goes, you can only play what's in front of you, but the Highlanders had to do without All Blacks fullback Ben Smith, ruled out with a hamstring injury, and it's fair to say the Rebels were awful against the Highlanders in Dunedin tonight.

Sadly, few would have expected anything else.

Once Richard Buckman sent Malakai Fekitoa over for the opening try, and Luke Whitelock scored one to cement the Highlanders' dominance in the first quarter, there was no way back for a Rebels team lacking anything in terms of attacking intent.

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They hardly entered the Highlanders' territory in the first half and unfortunately for them they did little for the argument that an Aussie team should be culled from the competition. They, and the Force, remain in the firing line, with the Brumbies, two-time champions, not out of it either.

For the Highlanders it was a win-win - a bonus point victory with few signs of serious injuries. In fact, their win boosted them into eighth place, and they will look to consolidate that after a difficult start which has included losses to the Chiefs, Crusaders and Hurricanes.

A match against an Australian team was probably a blessed relief, and they took to it with relish. They were never in danger of losing this and replacement hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate put the icing on the cake with a try after the final hooter.

For the Rebels, it was all about damage limitation, and, while that was a good thing for a Highlanders team looking for a boost up the table after a relatively difficult start, it wasn't good for the competition.

The Rebels, who started this match in last place and remain there, had gone into this match with zero wins from four matches and no one but the most delusional of their supporters would have given them a chance against a team fired up to recognise Aaron Smith's 100th match for the franchise.

The Rebels, one of the teams' for a cull by the Australian Rugby Union, needed to show something - anything - as much for themselves as for anyone else watching this procession, but they were unable to.

Halfback Nic Stirzaker was a nippy, as he is, and loose forward Jordy Reid offered resistance, but there was nothing in terms of consistency and what resistance they showed was too little, too late. Reece Hodge's late try was nothing more than a consolation.

This was a team, with an uncertain future thanks to Sanzaar's long overdue review of the competition, which is in serious danger of losing their place in the competition, and they did little to suggest they should remain in it.

"In the first half we could barely get out of our half tonight so they played really well tonight," Stirzaker said afterwards.

The Highlanders had it their own way from start to finish. All they had to do was run straight and deliver the ball to an expectant backline and they did it.

Fekitoa was a handful, scoring two tries, and even Buckman showed out in a relatively unfamiliar midfield position. Despite the unfamiliar line-up, they were always going to be too good, and so it proved.

Highlanders 51 (Malakai Fekitoa 2, Luke Whitelock, Richard Buckman, Gareth Evans tries; Marty Banks 3 pens, 4 cons)
Rebels 12 (Tom English, Reece Hodge tries; Hodge con)
Halftime: 20-0