Super Rugby roundup: Otago Highlanders blitz Lions’ perfect run

Ben Smith and the Otago Highlanders put on a big-play masterclass in the second half and ended the Golden Lions' perfect start to the Super Rugby season in a 34-15 result.

Aaron Smith of the Highlanders smiles with teammates during their Super Rugby win over Golden Lions on Saturday. Martin Hunter / AFP / March 12, 2016
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Ben Smith sparked a second-half blitz of long-range tries to give the Otago Highlanders a 34-15 victory that brought an abrupt halt to the Golden Lions flying start to the Super Rugby season.

The defending champions held a narrow 10-3 lead at half-time in Dunedin, but four minutes into the second half this had blown out to a 24-3 advantage with two 70-metre tries.

Ten minutes later they produced another try from their own 22-metre line on their way to outscoring the South Africans four tries to two.

The Lions, who started the year with back-to-back wins over the Japan Sunwolves and Waikato Chiefs, never recovered from yielding 21 points in the third quarter as they crashed to their first defeat.

They produced two tries in the closing stages of the game but the outcome by then was beyond doubt.

The Highlanders laid the foundation for the victory with a kick-and-chase first half to keep the Lions on the back foot and a dominant pack who restricted the amount of clean ball the Lions were able to secure.

“Our forwards played really well. We knew they were going to come hard at set piece time and our forwards fronted there and we made the most of the ball we had,” captain Smith said.

Lima Sopoaga, who finished with 14 points and a 100 per cent kicking success rate, engineered all of the Highlanders’ first half points with penalties and then a delicate chip kick to put right wing Matt Faddes in for his first try.

The Lions’ best try-scoring chance in the first half came against the run of play when a Jaco Kriel intercept sparked a 60-metre move but when Ruan Combrinck tried to ground the ball he was held up by Malakai Fekitoa.

With a seven point lead at the break the Highlanders were not comfortable but everything changed two minutes into the second half.

Ben Smith took a quick lineout with Aaron Smith on the Highlanders 22 line which ended with a try to Ben Smith.

From the restart Faddes pulled off an intercept to run 70 metres for a try and that was followed by an Alex Ainley turnover deep in Highlanders territory which resulted in a try to Fekitoa at the other end of the pitch.

Sopoaga, who converted all the tries, added a drop goal to have the Highlanders up 34-3 before the Lions finished off with tries to Rohan Janse van Rensburg, on debut, and Ruan Ackermann.

Elton Jantjies kicked a penalty in the first half and a conversion in the second.

Melbourne Rebels 25, Queensland Reds 23

A coaching change did little to change the fortunes of the Queensland Reds when they lost 25-23 to the Melbourne Rebels.

It was the Reds’ third loss in a row to start the season and came after Richard Graham was sacked last week and replaced by co-interim head coaches Matt O’Connor and Nick Stiles.

Despite being a man down with Anthony Fainga’a in the sin bin, the Reds were camped inside the Rebels’ 22 for several minutes in the closing stages of the match. But they couldn’t manage a shot at a drop goal and eventually knocked on, handing possession and the points to Melbourne.

With matches in Perth and Pretoria, South Africa, to start the season, the Rebels have already racked up 20,000 kilometers (12,000 miles) of travel in two rounds. That heavy schedule looked to take its toll in the second half despite the home side leading 16-10 at half-time.

But the Rebels stayed in front thanks to flyhalf Jack Debreczeni, who kicked six penalties and a conversion.

*Associated Press

Friday’s matches

ACT Brumbies 31, Western Force 14

The ACT Brumbies extended their unbeaten start to the season but were denied a bonus-point victory in a comprehensive 31-14 win over compatriots the Western Force in Perth on Friday.

Hooker Stephen Moore, his replacement Josh Mann-Rea, centre Matt Toomua and wing Joe Tomane crossed the line for the visitors, who led 17-7 at half-time, with flyhalf Christian Leali’ifano kicking four conversions and a penalty.

The Force scored their points through tries from winger Luke Morahan and centre Ben Tapuai, with flyhalf Jonno Lance and his replacement, Peter Grant, adding conversions.

*Reuters

Wellington Hurricanes 23, Auckland Blues 19

Wellington Hurricanes captain TJ Perenara grabbed two tries and his side produced a super defensive performance with 14 players in added time to win their first game of the Super Rugby season, beating the Auckland Blues 23-19 at Eden Park on Friday.

Victor Vito also scored a first-half try, while flyhalf Beauden Barrett slotted a conversion and two penalties.

Rene Ranger and George Moala scored tries for the Blues. Flyhalf Ihaia West slotted three penalties.

*Reuters

In action later Saturday: Japan Sunwolves v Central Cheetahs; Southern Kings v Waikato Chiefs; Western Stormers v Coastal Sharks

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