Thompson revels in Highlanders' win

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Lynn McConnell     12 May 2018     Getty Images

With a six-point lead and 17 minutes of the game remaining, he saw open space in the Lions 22m area and put a grubber kick past the Lions defence, regathered the ball and found his midfield mate Teihorangi Walden in support for the try.


It was fitting reward for Walden who secured an initial strip turnover from Lions centre Lionel Mapoe. Wing Waisake Naholo ducked and dived looking for a gap but then the chance opened for Walden to race for a crucial try.

While replacement Marnus Schoeman capitalising on yet another Lions lineout maul, all four of the Lions tries were attributable to lineout mauls, to get the side back within six points, but the concession of two penalties allowed home first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga to land two goals to secure the winning advantage.

The Highlanders' desire to move the ball was clear from the outset when wing Tevita Nabura took the kick-off and worked his way through Lions defenders to take play into the Lions' half.

Within four minutes first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga had scored, after a pass from Tom Franklin had gone to ground. But in bending down to scoop up the ball, a slight hesitation was created in the defence and he exploded through the gap to score the first try.

Outstanding Highlanders forward play demonstrated how continuity, quick ruck ball and confidence with the ball in hand could move the big Lions pack around, never better demonstrated than in the 13th minute try scored by hooker Liam Coltman.

After centre Rob Thompson brought play back infield from the sideline, after an orthodox back movement, prop Daniel Lienert-Brown, lock Alex Ainley and No.8 Luke Whitelock all took the ball forward in powerful movements before an accurate pass across the face of the goalline from the ruck by halfback Kayne Hammington gave Coltman the widest of gaps to get over the line.

A 13-phase build-up was exploited by Thompson, who made a strong break, punishing poor defence, and passing to flanker Elliot Dixon who threw a pass inside to Whitelock who showed fine control to hold the ball and get over for the try.

The Highlanders were almost further ahead when from a play in which Ben Smith had taken the ball upfield, Hammington fired a pass which bounced off the head of retreating Lions lock Andries Ferreira. Smith took the rebound and ran over for a try, but it was over-ruled on the grounds he had been in front of Hammington when he played the ball.

The Lions had a rare chance to score from a breakout by Mapoe which was continued by ever-present No.8 Kwagga Smith. But the home defence denied them.

But that wasn't the case in the 38th minute when a lineout move, albeit not quite as accurate as planned, still produced ball of good quality and from a midfield ruck, first five-eighths Elton Jantjies flick a short, inside pass to second five-eighths Harold Vorster who got over the line for their first try.

The Highlanders dropped their guard in the final moments, conceding a penalty which allowed the Lions to kick to the 22m area, move the ball from the lineout to centre field and then gain another penalty. That allowed the Lions to set up another lineout drive and it was hooker Robbie Coetzee who scored.

Halftime restored the Highlanders' mojo and while a turnover conceded by Walden could have had disastrous consequences when replacement forward Lourens Erasmus raced downfield with the ball, the opposite proved the case.

Instead, the ball came the way of the Highlanders with Walden redeeming himself by getting turnover ball out to Ben Smith on the right flank, he had plenty of space and when challenged had Waisake Naholo on his inside to score the try.

But the Highlanders were guilty of infringing in their own territory creating the chance for the inevitable lineout and drive in the 48th minute and Coetzee was able to claim his second try of the night.

Scorers: Highlanders 39 (Lima Sopoaga, Liam Coltman, Luke Whitelock, Waisake Naholo, Tei Walden tries; Sopoaga 4 con, 2 pen) Lions 27 (Harold Vorster, Robbie Coetzee 2, Marnus Schoeman tries; Elton Jantjies 2 con, pen). HT: 19-15