The Otago Highlanders yesterday cruised to a 51-12 bonus-point win over Melbourne Rebels in Dunedin, New Zealand, heaping further pressure on the beleaguered Australian club.
The Highlanders ran in six tries to two, including a brace for Malakai Fekitoa, while pivot Marty Banks potted five conversions and three penalties.
The Rebels never threatened and remain at the bottom of the Australian conference without a win this season, a major concern as Super Rugby administrators look to trim the bloated competition.
Rebels captain Nic Stirzaker said the Highlanders came out strong and forced mistakes from his team.
“We put ourselves under pressure with dropped balls and we couldn’t get out of our own half,” he said. “We had to tackle the house down in the first half and it just caught up with us at the end.”
The win lifted the Highlanders off the foot of the New Zealand conference, although the Auckland Blues can overtake them with a win over the Western Force today.
It also means Australian Super Rugby teams have lost all eight of their matches against New Zealand rivals this year.
The Highlanders’ scrum dominated from the outset, forcing the Rebels pack off the ball for a turnover in the 12th minute that set up a diving try from Fekitoa.
Luke Whitelock crossed for their second five minutes later to make it 17-0 after Tom Franklin brushed off a weak tackle and offloaded to the No. 8.
The Rebels’ error rate climbed as the pressure intensified and they went into the break down 20-0, although it could have been worse, as scrambling defense prevented two Highlanders tries on the line.
Melbourne regrouped after the break, finally holding onto the ball and launching some cohesive attacks.
They were rewarded in the 52nd minute, when Tom English ran onto Mitch Inman’s pass and zigzagged through the Highlanders defense to score a try.
However, the hosts snuffed out any hopes of an unlikely Rebels comeback with two quick tries by Richard Buckman and Gareth Evans, blowing out their lead to 37-5.
Fekitoa then intercepted a loose pass to score his second five-pointer, with Reece Hodge managing a consolation try for the Rebels with two minutes to go.
Even then the Highlanders had an answer, with hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate lumbering over the try line from close range to wrap it up.
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