Sat, Feb 24, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Highlanders edge thriller, Rebels rout 14-man Reds

AFP and Reuters, WELLINGTON and MELBOURNE

The Otago Highlanders yesterday beat the Auckland Blues 41-34 in a helter-skelter Super Rugby New Zealand Conference season opener in Dunedin.

The end-to-end thriller featured nine tries, including doubles for Rob Thompson and Teihorangi Walden of the Highlanders, as well as Blues wing Rieko Ioane.

The Highlanders scored five to four, only managing to hold onto the lead when the frantic pace of play finally slowed in the final 15 minutes.

It continued a dismal run for coach Tana Umaga’s Blues, who finished last in the conference last season and have not beaten a New Zealand side since the first match of 2016.

The three-time champions have not made the playoffs since 2011, but newly anointed captain Augustine Pulu said he remained confident of improvement this season.

“We got the effort and that’s all you can ask for, but we’re still disappointed and there’s a few things we can work on,” Pulu said. “We’re going to build from this.”

In Melbourne, the Rebels got their Super Rugby season off to a record-breaking start with a 45-19 bonus-point demolition of the 14-man Reds in an Australian derby.

A red card after 10 minutes for visiting captain Scott Higginbotham left the Reds a man short and the Rebels took advantage, running in seven tries, the most they have managed in Super Rugby and setting a new mark for points scored by the team in one game.

Winger Sefanaia Naivalu, fullback Dane Haylett-Petty and flyhalf Jack Debreczeni scored two tries each to go with a score for center Tom English as the Rebels ran riot.

The Reds managed three tries through centers Duncan Paia’aua and Samu Kerevi, and winger Chris Feauai-Sautis, with two of those converted by scrumhalf James Tuttle.

“We had moments in the game where we clocked off, but to get a win in round one and start on a positive note, I’ll take that,” Rebels captain Adam Coleman said. “We will learn a lot from this match.”

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