‘Bittersweet’ result sees Highlanders reach finals

This article was originally published by Stuff and is reproduced with permission

The Highlanders have scraped into the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs by the narrowest of margins, despite a 10th loss of the campaign against the Melbourne Rebels on Sunday.

The 31-30 loss was enough to secure the losing bonus point they needed to edge above the Western Force and into eighth spot on the ladder, booking a clash against the Blues at Eden Park next week.

However, they will go into that game as massive underdogs after another poor performance – and they had to be rescued by another outstanding performance by Folau Fakatava off the bench.

READ MORE: Giants young gun diagnosed with testicular cancer

READ MORE: Hidden detail sheds light on Haas contract saga

READ MORE: Liverpool fans tear gassed before Champions League final

Fakatava was injected with about 20 minutes to go and promptly scored one try and set up another with an outrageous dummy that will surely secure his All Blacks selection.

However, they had to defend for their lives in a nervous finish after a loose pass from Vilimoni Koroi almost led to the try that would have seen them eliminated.

It was a performance that left Highlanders skipper Aaron Smith with a strange feeling.

“It’s obviously bittersweet, but we made it in,” he told Stan Sport after the loss.

“At the start of the season if they said you’d be playing in the playoffs, you’d take that.

“We’ve just got to put all our energy and focus into next week, we know we’ve got a big game up in Auckland, but it’s bloody exciting.

“We’re in total control of what we can do and the things that we need to clean up.”

Smith’s feelings were echoed by Highlanders No.10 Marty Banks.

“She’s a weird old feeling, losing the game and then being excited about the fact that we’ve progressed,” he told Stan Sport.

“The plan was to do it on our terms and disregard whatever happened last night in Perth.

“Our mistakes were our worst enemy, but credit to the Rebels. It’s a little bit disappointing that we couldn’t seal it ourselves, but we’ll walk into the sheds now knowing we’ve got a game next week.

“There’s just that little bit of a gut feeling that it just doesn’t feel that right.”

The Highlanders started well, with wing Rory van Vugt finishing well after just three minutes to give them a perfect start.

They looked in complete control when lock Josh Dickson brushed past some average defense inside the opening quarter to push the lead out to 12-0, but they subsequently fell into a hole as they struggled to inject pace into the game.

The scrum was increasingly put under pressure, and they paid the price for a labored move that went wrong in the 35th minute.

Smith looped around flanker Billy Harmon in midfield and spun a wide pass to the right-hand edge, but he was comfortably picked off by Rebels wing Glen Vaihu and he sped away for an important try.

That incident reflected the Highlanders’ lack of accuracy with ball in hand, and they were also guilty of pushing a few passes in good positions.

No.8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u was again among their best, while Josh Timu also made some good meters with his willing carries.

However, the back three lacked punch, and van Vugt missed a straightforward tackle after 52 minutes that led to the Rebels’ third try.

Banks lacked spark, and he was hooked after his failure to find touch from a second-half penalty proved costly.

Watch every game of the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific season, streaming ad-free, live and on demand only on Stan Sport. Sign up for your free seven-day trial!

However, his replacement Koroi promptly kicked a restart out on the full to compound the Highlanders’ woes, and the Rebels swept upfield to grab their fourth try.

Koroi also missed a relatively simple conversion from Fakatava’s try, putting more pressure on his side as they chased the game in final quarter.

For a daily dose of the best of the breaking news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here!

#Bittersweet #result #sees #Highlanders #reach #finals

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.