Rugby: Rampant Highlanders step it up

Highlanders second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu brushes off the tackle of Crusaders hooker Ben Funnell on his way to the tryline in Oamaru last night.
Highlanders second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu brushes off the tackle of Crusaders hooker Ben Funnell on his way to the tryline in Oamaru last night.
More of this and they will be hanging from the rafters at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

The Highlanders had an impressive 38-21 victory over the Crusaders in Oamaru last night, showing they are running nicely along as the season looms.

The home team scored six tries to three and ran away with the game in the second half.

The Crusaders did not help themselves by making wholesale changes at the break but never really fired a shot in the second 40 minutes.

The Highlanders on the other hand looked dangerous on the counterattack and the home side's backs were able to bust the line numerous times.

Much has been written about him in the past six months and what he is doing in the Super 15 but if he repeats what he did last night for the rest of the season then it will be all positive for Ma'a Nonu.

First five-eighth Lima Sopoaga dives over the line to score against the Crusaders. Photos by Peter McIntosh.
First five-eighth Lima Sopoaga dives over the line to score against the Crusaders. Photos by Peter McIntosh.
Nonu was strong, quick and most importantly very, very on the money. He scored the first try of the game and was strong on running the ball up. He was quick off his line and never let anyone past him.

Other big names who have come into the franchise this season performed well.

Tony Woodcock got through a solid 50 minutes and Brad Thorn was all over the park,John Hardie worked hard in the 50 minutes he had on the field.

Highlanders assistant coach Scott McLeod said the performance was a step up from last week, when the side had lost to the Chiefs.

''We tided it up in some things during the week and got a little bit more clarity in what we were trying to do,'' McLeod said.

''Ma'a should be reasonably happy in what he did, and running with the ball. There was a little bit of rustiness there in his lines and his tackles but he showed some real enthusiasm and that rubbed off on the other players.''

McLeod said the side also showed more passion at the breakdown.

''We were reading that a bit quicker and when to really go in and attack the ball and then when not to.''

McLeod had praise for the inside backs with Lima Sopoaga tidying up his game and attacking the line well.

Hayden Parker came on for Sopoaga early in the second half and also played well, managing to score two tries, one a nice run through a broken Crusaders defence.

McLeod said in some areas they were looking good two weeks out from the start of the competition but there were still plenty of things to work on.

The lineout was wonky and the scrum was untidy at times. The counterattacking options could have been better, McLeod said.

No major injuries were recorded which was one good thing. Jarrad Hoeata left the field early but it was just a stinger to his chest area.

The Highlanders started well, Nonu smashing his way over after 10 minutes and Buxton Popoali'i added another five minutes later after a nice ball from Sopoaga.

The Crusaders came back but attacking on the line near halftime the Highlanders stole the ball and proceeded to win a kick and chase with Hosea Gear ending up scoring.

The Crusaders scored a late try to make the scoreline a bit more respectable.


Highlanders v Crusaders
The scores
Highlanders ... 38

Hayden Parker 2, Ma'a Nonu, Buxton Popoali'i, Hosea Gear, Lima Sopoaga tries, Sopoaga 2 con, Parker 2 con

Crusaders ... 21
Luke Romano 2 tries, Kieran Fonotia try, Tom Taylor 2 con, Tyler Bleyendal con

Halftime: 19-14.
Crowd:
5000