This game is living up to and exceeding all expectations, both sides are playing nothing short of top draw rugby at an absolutely frenetic pace. After a long opening period of play it was the Hurricanes who blinked first with Liam Coltman earning a breakdown penalty for Lima Sopoaga to open the scoring with. What followed was 25 minutes of fast paced ball in hand, end to end footy with both teams running and tackling hard before Sopoaga slotted his second penalty goal from 50 metres out and entended the lead to 6-0. It took until the 35th minute for the Hurricanes to find their reply with Ma'a Nonu going over on the wing after an extended period of pick-and-gos from the home side close to our line, Beauden Barrett unable to convert. But the Highlanders were not done and Elliot Dixon, playing his 50th Super Rugby game, took four defenders with him as he stormed towards the tryline to plant the ball as the hooter sounded! Sopoaga added the extra 2-points from the sideline to complete his 100% successful first half with the boot. This is the stuff of legends and we have one of the biggest 40 minutes in Highlander's rugby history to come!
The Hurricanes opened the scoring early in the second with a Barrett penalty goal only for the Highlanders to return fire with a try to Waisake Naholo, conversion unsuccessful. On the 55th minute mark Barrett knocked over another penalty to close down the deficit to 7-points. It took only another 10 minutes of play before Barrett knocked over another 3-pointer after a period dominated by the home side territory and possession-wise and then there was only 4-points in it. The Highlanders then took control of possession and slowed the game down through pick- and-go set pieces in an effort to wind down the clock. After what seemed an age of time had passed, substitute first-five, Marty Banks, slotted a clutch drop goal to extend the lead back out to 7-points. The Highlanders then finished off the game by keeping the ball in hand until the buzzer sounded and they cemented their place in Super Rugby history with their first ever Championship victory.
WE ARE THE MIGHTY HIGHLANDERS!!!
HALF TIME: HUR:5 - HIG:13
FULL TIME: HUR:14 - HIG:21
Tries - M.Nonu.
Pen - B.Barrett 3
Tries - E.Dixon, W.Naholo
Pen - L.Sopoaga 2
Con - L.Sopoaga
Drop - M.Banks
The Highlanders hold a good lead as the teams head into the sheds for the break. After dominating territory and possession early in the half, the Highlanders scored first with a driving maul try to John Hardie off the back of a 5 metre lineout. Our latest half centurion Shaun Treeby went over from close range for our second, proving too hard to stop from close range as the Highlanders committed to a series of pick-and-go's close to the Blues try line. And with time up on the clock Elliot Dixon crossed for our third off the back of a 10 metre scrum to sign off on a half dominated by the visitors.
The Highlanders bounced back well after last week's loss to the Hurricanes, finishing the regular season strong with a big win over the Blues at Eden Park. The visitors once again started strongly and were rewarded with a bonus point try after 50 minutes of play when Patrick Osborne danced down the left wing to score. Dan Pryor went over for our 5th shortly after on the back of quick recycling from our forwards and backs combined deep in the Blues 22m. On the 65th minute mark Joe Latta went over his debut Super Rugby try when he went down with the ball over the Blues tryline deep in the heart of a driving maul. The Blues struck back almost instantly with a try to replacement back Matt McGahan. The Highlanders then swung back onto the attack and put an exclamation mark on the win with a try to Ben Smith on the left wing when he caught a tap back from Osborne as Lima Sopoaga delivered the cross kick to the waiting wingers hands.
A big effort from the boys! Well done to Shaun Treeby on reaching his 50 game milestone and putting in a strong 80 minutes in minutes in the process. Bring on the play-offs!
HALF TIME: BLU - HIG:20
FULL TIME: BLU:7 - HIG:44
Tries - M.McGahan
Con - I.West
Tries - J.Hardie, S.Treeby, E.Dixon, P.Osborne, D.Pryor, J.Latta, B.Smith
Pen - L.Sopoaga
Con - L.Sopoaga 3
Cards - J. Hohneck (21st min yellow)
The atmosphere was electric with a virtual capacity of 22,500 fans packed into Forsyth Barr Stadium with the crowd bringing the noise! Both teams came out fired up and hit the line hard in attack and on defense. Both first-fives traded penalties early on and the score was at 3-all after 10 minutes of play. It took until the 23rd minute mark for the first try of the game, Aaron Smith made a big break off the back of a scrum and then found Waisake Naholo who crossed the line for his 10th try of the season. The Chiefs replied with 2 penalties which pushed them into a narrow 1-point lead going into the break.
A win built on the back of cohesive attack and never say die defense. Like they did in the first half, the Highlanders came out firing and scored a try early to none other than Naholo when he crossed on the right wing to become the competition's leading try scorer off a suberb run and offload from Aaron Smith. Lima Sopoaga pushed the lead out further with a penalty goal as clock brought up 60 minutes. The Chiefs replied through Brodie Retallick with the big lock reaching out to score after a sustained period of attack. Not long after Sopoaga knocked over a penalty and extended the Highlanders lead to 21-14. The Highlanders were then called upon to defend as the Chiefs threw everything at the home side's line, and defend they did, eventually forcing the all important turnover with minutes left on the clock. Following that crucial turnover they fought their way down-field and sealed the result with a penalty from out in front on fulltime.
What a match! Semi-Finals here we come! Thank you to everyone that showed up in support, it was your energy that got the guys home.
FIRST HALF: HIG:8 - CHI:9
SECOND HALF: HIG:24 - CHI:14
Tries - W.Naholo 2
Pen - L.Sopoaga 4
Con - L.Sopoaga
Tries - B.Retallick
Pen - A.Horrell 3
The Highlanders started well, putting the home side under pressure close to their line, playing for territory, and we earned a penalty to open the scoring through Lima Sopoaga. It didn't take long for the Waratahs to find their reply when winger Rob Horne crossed over after receiving a chip kick from Ben Foley, conversion unsuccessful. The Highlanders then struck back with a bit of Aaron Smith magic after he intercepted the ball off the back of a Waratahs scrum and ran 10m to score, Sopoaga unable to convert from the sideline. The Waratahs then drew level with a penalty of their own to see the scores at 8-all after 25 minutes of scintillating play. The home side then took the lead with another Foley penalty but as was the theme in this game the Highlanders returned fire straight away with Richard Buckman bursting through the defensive line to score. Sopoaga's usually sure boot unable to find the sticks to convert. Foley pegged back the deficit with his third penalty goal to finish what has been a tense and fast paced first half. The Highlanders holding a one point lead going into the break in this epic semi-final encounter in Sydney.
The Highlanders came out fired up in the second half and employed the perfect game plan against the defending Champions, out scoring the men from Sydney 5 tries to 1. Following 10 minutes of end-to-end rugby after the resumption of play, it was the Waratahs who opened the scoring with a penalty goal. Waisake Naholo regained the lead for the Highlanders with a piece of individual magic after he chipped the ball from 25 and ran around the defender to score just inside the dead-ball line. The Highlanders were then awarded a penalty try when Jacques Potgieter was awarded a yellow carded for a swinging arm as Patrick Osborne was in the act of scoring. The Waratahs then threw everything they had at the visitors in an attempt to get back into the match but the Highlanders were shutting down anything the home side could muster. Once we swung back on attack, Sopoaga slotted a drop goal to extend the lead and it was Patrick Osborne who put the icing on the cake with a try after he latched onto a perfect chip kick from Sopoaga.
What a performance from the Highlanders!
Hurricanes up next at the Cake tin for the Final!
HALFTIME: WAR:14 - HIG:15
FULLTIME: WAR:17 - HIG:35
Tries - R.Horne,
Pen - B.Foley 4
Cards -J.Potgieter (57th min yellow)
Tries - A.Smith, R.Buckman, W.Naholo, Penalty try, P.Osborne
Pen - L.Sopoaga
Con - L.Sopoaga 2
Drop - L.Sopoaga
The Highlanders are faced a big deficit going into the halftime break after a fired up Hurricanes side blew them away in the first half. Lima Sopoaga opened the scoring with a drop goal in the first minute after the Highlander's forwards gained the turnover in the Hurricanes 22. The Hurricanes replied shorty after with a penalty to have the scores at 3 all after 3 minutes of play. The Highlanders were then reduced to 14 men when Gareth Evans was shown yellow for infringing while the Hurricanes were under penalty advantage while in the midst of a driving maul close to our line. The Hurricanes then proceeded to score three quickfire tries to give them a healthy lead with only 25 minutes on the clock. The visitors managed to pull one back with Ryan Tongia going over after receiving the ball from a tackle breaking John Hardie. The scorer then turned provider when Tongia caught his own up and under to make a big break up field which ended in a try to Sopoaga. But just as the Highlanders were working their way back into the game, the Hurricanes scored a late try to Dane Coles leaving the Highlanders with a lot of work to do in the second half.
The Highlanders fought hard but couldn't recover from deficit they faced following the first half. Things didn't start well for the Highlanders following the resumption of play with Savea going over a minute after the kick off. The Highlanders replied with a try of their own to Marty Banks shortly after only for the Hurricanes to strike back almost instantly with Perenara going over for his second. As the clock wound down Ma'a Nonu scored two quickfire 5 pointers to make it a comprehensive victory for the New Zealand conference leaders as the final whistle sounded.
HALF TIME: HUR 30 - HIG13
FULL TIME: HUR 56 - HIG 20
Tries - B.Thomson, J.Marshall, TJ Perenara 2, D.Coles, J.Savea, M.Nonu 2
Pen - J.Marshall 2
Con - J.Marshall 5
Tries - R.Tongia, L.Sopoaga, M.Banks
Drop - L.Sopoaga
Cards -G.Evans (11th min yellow)