GARETH DUNCAN watched the Highlanders display an all-out attack in their 43-12 bonus-point win over the Melbourne Rebels in Invercargill.
The Highlanders’ tactical and goal kicking was poor. In fact, kicking out of hand was rarely an option taken by the hosts, even in their own territory. But their effective expansive approach laid the platform for this victory as they broke the Rebels defence on numerous occasions and crossed the chalk seven times to seal a worthy win.
Fullback Ben Smith and flank Adam Thomson were central to this success. While the former completed a brace and the latter starred with a hat-trick, they also carried the ball strongly and helped create continuous attacking momentum. No 8 Nasi Manu, hooker Jason Rutledge and flank James Haskell also deserve special mention for their contribution.
It was risky early on, with the visitors capitalising on favourable field possession and the Otago franchise’s ill-discipline and failure to hold on to the ball (they conceded possession on 14 occasions in the first half). While they struggled to find chinks in the Highlanders’ guard, they gained the lead thanks to James O’Connor boot, who found the target from all four of his penalty attempts in the first half.
The Rebels received a yellow card when Lloyd Johannson dropped Haskell awkwardly off the ball. The replays showed that referee Marius Jonker was harsh to follow through with his assistant’s advice, but the men from Melbourne weren’t punished during their one-man disadvantage as the Highlanders still struggled for continuity on attack.
Although errant in the first quarter, Jamie Josephs’ charges showed good ticker near the break to draw level at 12-12. Smith brushed off two defenders on his way to the chalk in a move that was created after a poor Kurtley Beale clearance, while Thomson touched down in the final move of the half to remove the deficit.
The Highlanders managed to hold on to their attacking ascendancy in the second half, with two quick tries after the restart – Thomson and Kade Poki on hand to give their team the lead for the first time.
The Rebels faltered against the Highlanders’ juggernaut-like offense. They persisted to kick play into the home team’s half and hoped to enforce errors, like in the first stanza, but their resolve deteriorated in the final 40 as Smith, Thomson and Jamie Mackintosh completed the rout.