The Highlanders clouted the Cheetahs 32-8 to inflict the central franchise’s sixth consecutive loss.
The game was predictably scrappy, but surprisingly competitive in the initial stages. The Cheetahs put together some promising phases, and if not for their poor finishing and the Highlanders’ determined defence, they would have banked the win before half-time. But dropped balls, forward passes and aimless kicking culled their attacking momentum.
The home pack was impressive, monstering the Cheetahs at scrum-time and scoring the first try through a lineout drive. Their strike runners were prominent, No 8 George Naoupu sliding through tackles with alarming regularity. The Highlanders didn’t have much possession, but they failed to convert this pressure into points, their kickers missing three goals in the first half alone.
The visitors went to the shed 8-5 up thanks to an opportunistic try by Corne Uys, but squandered the lead right after the break. Fullback Hennie Daniller mistimed his dive on a grubber, and a grateful Israel Dagg scooped the spoils to score. It was the moment the Highlanders seized the initiative. They began to grow in confidence and the Cheetahs, defiant in attitude, could do little to repel the surge.
A typical Naoupu rumble set up the ‘Landers’ second try, Steven Setephano collecting the pass and bouncing off defender and goalpost to score. At 20-8, it was a telling moment.
The Cheetahs continued to fight and built some good platforms, but the final pass was either knocked on or thrown into touch. Their failure in this match reflected their failure on another winless tour. Defensive lapses, poor handling and wayward kicking – it’s really not hard to see why victory is so elusive.
Adam Thomson scored his second try when he rounded off a great interchange between Highlanders backs and forwards. The movement also secured the bonus point for a team looking to elevate themselves from the Super 14 basement.
Dagg picked up his second in the dying minutes to make it a hiding. The loss confirms the fourth consecutive Australasian sojourn without a win, and with some tough games at home, the Cheetahs’ first victory of 2009 could be some way off.
By Jon Cardinelli