Highlanders sink Brumbies in fourth quarter

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Lynn McConnell     14 Apr 2018     Getty Images

It also increased the lack of success by Australian sides against their New Zealand opposites but it wasn't without a willing contest where returning Australian flanker David Pocock was a constant menace, ruling the breakdown and reliable on defence.
But a strong fourth quarter spelled the difference as the class of fullback Ben Smith made its impact to push the game out of Brumbies' reach.

The inability of the Brumbies to benefit from their attempts to build tackle-taxing phases saw the Highlanders absorb pressure and turn it back on the Australian visitors.

With first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga in the sin bin for a dangerous tackle, from the 51st minute, the Brumbies attempted to wear down the reduced Highlanders defence, but it didn't work.

Using longer passes to get the ball wide, they did it once too often when first five-eighths Wharenui Hawera's ball to his wing was intercepted just out from the Highlanders line by wing Waisake Naholo and with so many up in the line, the All Blacks wing had the luxury of a gentle job 80m downfield. It took the Highlanders to a 22-10 lead.

That opened the floodgates with replacement Fletcher Smith putting the icing on the cake in the 83rd minute with the sixth try for the home side.

The Highlanders' ability from set piece moves resulted in a stunning 24th minute try for Ben Smith. With hooker Liam Coltman positioned as a proxy stand-off, he linked with halfback Aaron Smith, who passed wide to Sopoaga and he passed a long ball to Ben Smith.

The fullback cut back into an opening and found a clear path to the goalline.

Earlier, a 10-phase build-up from the Highlanders' forwards where lock Jackson Hemopo twice made good ground, as did second five-eighths Tei Walden on the rare occasions when ball was released to the backline, and when the defence had been worn down, Sopoaga scored.

Pocock was making his presence felt at the breakdown twice securing first half penalties while he also had a try disallowed in the 30th minute after a TMO view showed the ball had rebounded off a Brumbies player in front of him.

But as the Brumbies were enjoying a penalty advantage they got to set a five-metre scrum, from which they twice received penalties, courtesy of some outstanding work by prop Allan Alalatoa, before on the third attempt, No.8 Isi Naisarani was able to run off the back of the scrum and blast his way over for the try.

Good work at the breakdown by replacement halfback Kane Hammington saw him steal the ball from the base on the Brumbies side. The ball found Ben Smith on the sideline down which he raced, too fast, for the forwards in defence, to score.

Then from the restart in the 68th minute Smith was back in the action securing a high ball and it was centre Rob Thompson who ran to the sideline, kicked ahead where the bounce of the ball favoured replacement midfield back Matt Faddes. He had Hammington on hand. He passed to replacement hooker Ash Dixon who on-passed to lock Shannon Frizell who place the Highlanders in a secure position 10 minutes out from the end of the game.

Late consolation came the way of the Brumbies when their phase play finally produced a try for livewire replacement halfback Joe Powell.

Scorers: Highlanders 43 (Lima Sopoaga, Ben Smith 2, Waisake Naholo, Shannon Frizell, Fletcher Smith tries; Sopoaga 4 con; Ben Smith con) Brumbies 17 (Isi Naisarani, Joe Powell tries; Wharenui Hawera 2 con, pen). HT: 12-10