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)
The stage is set for a massive game with Invercargill turing out in the thousands to support the Highlanders at Rugby Park Stadium for this high-stakes clash. As the fog rolled in the Highlanders opened the scoring with two penalty goals in the first 10 minutes through the trusty boot of Lima Sopoaga. Difficult handling conditions hampered the period of play to follow with both teams unable to hold on to the ball while on attack. The Chiefs finally getting on the board on the 20th minute mark with a penalty of their own to Southland native, Damien McKenzie. Patrick Osborne went over for the first try 10 minutes later, the big man proving too hard to stop from only 10 metres out, Sopoaga unable to convert from out wide. The Chiefs then came oh-so-close before halftime with a try that was ruled out by the TMO as a knock-on on review and the Highlandes held an 11-3 lead as the whistle blew for half-time.
The second half saw the game open up and the Highlanders employed the game plan proving successful in the damp conditions, the Highlanders kept the opposition pinned in their own half domniating territory and minimising the opportunities for the Chiefs' dangerous outside backs. The Highlanders capitalised on time spent inside the Chief's half with Naholo opening the scoring in the second half with a magic 5-pointer after cutting the the defense open from halfway and scoring his 9th try of the season. The Chiefs replied with two penalty goals to narrow the deficit to 9-points with just over 20minutes to play. Sopoaga pushed the lead back out to 15 with two penalty goals of his own with less than 15minutes to play on the clock. The Highlander's third try soon followed and went to Buckman who dived over for his first try of the season after receiving the ball from Aaron Smith following an extended period of pick-and-go play. Not content with the extended scoreline the Highlanders pushed for that all important fourth try and bonus point, and it was Captain Ben Smith who went over after the Highlanders spread the ball across the front of the Chiefs goal line.
Thank you to all who stayed at the end to watch the presentation to Ben Smith following the achievement of his 100th Super Rugby game in Perth last weekend.
FIRST HALF: HIG:11 - CHI:3
SECOND HALF: HIG:36 - CHI:9
Tries - P.Osborne, W.Naholo, R.Buckman, B.Smith
Pen - L.Sopoaga 4
Con - L.Sopoaga 2
Pen - D.McKenzie 3
This game was always going to be tough being on the return leg of the South Afican tour and playing a team with nothing to lose and history on their side (the Force have won six games against the Highlanders since 2007) but the Highlanders managed to secure the win they needed to keep their play-off hopes alive. The first half didn't see many points go on the board for either team but still had the dynamic play the Highlanders are known for, but not able to finish off as well as they have in previous games. The opening quarter saw possession change sides numerous times with neither team being able to covert it into points until Lima Sopoaga was able to slot penalty goal after the Force infringed while the Highlanders were hot on attack, this was was met with a penalty to the Force through Sias Ebersohn soon after. The remainder of the half was locked up 3-all as both sides attacked the other's line, and just when it looked like it was going to be all tied up at the break, Sopoaga managed to push the Highlanders to a 6-3 lead with a penalty after the half time.
The Highlanders came out of the sheds stirred up for a big second 40 minutes and John Hardie notched up a try in his 50th match off the back of a driving maul after only being back on the grass for 7 minutes. The Force were then called upon to defend their line for close to 15 minutes as the Highlanders camped in the home side's 22 which ended with Sopoaga slotted a dropped goal. The Highlanders swung straight back onto the attack after the restart and Aaron Smith scored a great try after receiving the ball from a tackle breaking Richard Buckman.
A massive congratulations to Ben Smith on his 100th Investec Super Rugby game and John Hardie on his 50th. Both men putting in great shifts last night as they have throughout their whole seasons.
HALFTIME: FOR 3 - HIG 6
FULLTIME: FOR 3 - HIG 23
Pen - S.Ebersohn
Tries - J.Hardie, A.Smith
Pen - L.Sopoaga (2)
Con - M.Banks
Drop - L.Sopoaga
It was another great first half of rugby from the Highlanders, after last week's shock second half defeat to the Lions the Highlanders came out fired up for their second game in South Africa. They started strong with debutant Ryan Tongia notching up an early try after being on the receiving end of a perfectly weighted chip kick from Lima Sopoaga. The Cheetahs replied with a penalty only for Tongia to bring up his second try after setting himself up with a great chip and chase try down the sideline. Aaron Smith brought up our third try on the 25th minute mark, showing great hands to catch an expert offload from Nasi Manu who made a storming run down the left wing. With just over 30 minutes gone, Patrick Osborne, brought up the bonus point try when he dived on a 20 metre grubber from Ben Smith, competing only with team mate, Malakai Fekitoa, for the bragging rights. After an exciting first half the Highlanders led the Cheetahs 26-3.
Keen to not have a repeat of the second half against the Lions, the Highlanders kept the pressure on in the second half with Aaron Smith resumimg the scoring on the 45 minute mark. Smith scored a pick-and-go try after the Highlanders launched a multiple phase attack on the Cheetahs try line. Gareth Evans soon went over for his third try in as many games after completing a try that began inside the Cheetahs 22m line with Malakai Fekitoa busting up the mid-field. The Cheetahs then struck back with three quickfire tries in the face of a tiring Highlanders defensive line. But it was Ben Smith who sealed the result with a nice chip and chase try. Lima Sopoaga played his part again this week setting up tries and slotting four out of six conversions while substitute first-five, Marty Banks, converted Ben Smith's try to round out the game with a 45-24 bonus point win over the Cheetahs. On to Perth and the Western Force before heading home to play the Chiefs in Invercargill.
HALFTIME: CHE: 3 - HIG 26
FULLTIME: CHE 24 - HIG 45
Tries - R.Benjamin,C Wegner, F.Venter,
Pen - F.Brummer
Con - F.Brummer (3)
Cards - R.Rhule (42nd min yellow)
Tries - R.Tongia (2), A.Smith (2), P.Osborne, G.Evans, B.Smith
Con - L.Sopoaga (4), M.Banks