Highlanders lose crucial match in Johannesburg
allblacks.com 19 May 2019 Getty Images
The Highlanders had a few disruptions to deal with, as All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo was a late withdrawal. He was set to play his first game since the start of April, but Highlanders coaching staff opted to give him one more week to recover from his knee injury.
They also lost midfielder Teihorangi Walden to a head knock in the first half, which meant young first-five Dan Hollinshead was forced to play at fullback.
It was the visitors who scored first, in the fourth minute. The Highlanders saw space out wide on the right flank and Sio Tomkinson easily crossed the line.
Kwagga Smith was outstanding for the Lions, scoring two tries and bursting through several defenders to put Andries Coetzee into space for their opening try of the match.
Some quick hands and a great offload from first-five Josh Ioane saw Tom Franklin score for the Highlanders’ second try. Kwagga Smith crossed for his first and a successful conversion from Elton Jantjies gave the Lions a narrow 14-12 lead at the break.
The tries continued to come in droves in the second half, with Kwagga Smith scoring again and Jordan Hyland getting one back for the Highlanders in quick succession.
Aaron Smith was brilliant in setting up Matt Faddes’ try. He went through the gate cleanly and darted 65 metres, before offloading to Faddes who scored in the right corner, putting the Highlanders in front.
Shaun Reynolds scored for the Lions, before Ioane dotted down for a brace in the 71st minute. The Lions had a 31-29 buffer with six minutes left to play. But the Highlanders were robbed of an all-important bonus point, as Courtnall Skosan crossed the line in the final stages to secure the victory for the Lions.
The 12-3 penalty count against the Highlanders will be an area of concern for Aaron Mauger, as his side now prepare for another difficult task. They travel to Cape Town to face the Stormers next week. The Stormers drew with the Crusaders this morning.
It’s a tough loss for the Highlanders, who are now only three points clear of the Blues in the New Zealand conference with four regular season weeks to go.
Scorers: Lions 38 (Andries Coetzee, Kwagga Smith 2, Shaun Reynolds, Courtnall Skosan tries; Elton Jantjies 5 cons; Jantjies pen) Highlanders 29 (Sio Tomkinson, Tom Franklin, Jordan Hyland, Matt Faddes, Josh Ioane tries; Josh Ioane, Dan Hollinshead cons) Halftime: 14-12