Hemopo, Smith, Squire fire Highlanders

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Lynn McConnell     26 May 2018     Getty Images

Smith substituted for the injured Kayne Hammington possibly earlier than was intended but his experience and organisational skill, especially, built on the earlier effort of the side and saw them tie the Reds in their own territory for the last 30 minutes.


Their lineout drive and close quarter work, with lock Jackson Hemopo outstanding in the tight-loose and flanker Dillon Hunt losing nothing in comparison to the veteran pilferer George Smith, was central to the side's recovery.

While the final margin was close, the reality was the Highlanders seized control of the game in the second half and never let it go.

Chances were few in the first half and it was the Highlanders who scored the first try from a five-metre scrum. No.8 Marino Mikaele Tu'u fed Hammington on the right. But he immediately flung a long ball back to the left to wing Tevita Li. With plenty of space to move, Li beat marker Izaia Perese and then raced into the corner to score.

However, the Reds' scrum power came into effect two minutes from the turnaround when tighthead prop Taniela Tupou gained a penalty when mark Daniel Lienert-Brown dropped a knee. The penalty was kicked into the corner and from the lineout drive it was hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa who emerged with the try.

Four minutes into the second half from a scrum close to the Highlanders' line, Lance ran wide from the scrum and had centre Samu Kerevi run off him on the angle and when tackled he slipped the ball to fullback Hamish Stewart to score.

Like Aaron Smith, flanker Liam Squire also got an earlier than expected call up when replacing flanker James Lentjes when he failed an HIA assessment. Squire proved a handful for the Reds defence, scoring one try and going close with two barnstorming runs down the left flank.

His liaison with Smith gave the side a core of experience in the link zone and their management was evident in the way they started to use their lineout maul to turn some of the pressure back on the home side.

Discipline in vital moments also let the Reds down, and ultimately provided the Highlanders with their entrée back into the game.

Firstly, Tupou took wing Waisake Naholo out when he was trying to follow up a kick ahead and from the penalty the Highlanders launched another assault. It brought reward in the 57th minute when some fiercely contested goalline rucks saw Sopoaga slip a pass to Squire who burst past defender Moses Sorovi to score.

Then lock Izack Rodda took Highlanders second five-eighths Tei Walden in a high tackle and that provided Sopoaga with the simplest of penalty goal chances in front of the posts three minutes from the end.

Once that was goaled the Highlanders wound down the clock to claim an important win.

Scorers: Reds 15 (Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Hamish Stewart tries; Jono Lance con, pen) Highlanders 18 (Tevita Li, Liam Squire tries; Lima Sopoaga con, 2 pen ). HT: 10-8