Bombed by a Lancaster

The Highlanders got bombed by a Lancaster last night.

Rising winger Darby Lancaster scored a hat-trick of sizzling tries to inspire the Rebels to a wild 47-31 win in Melbourne.

The son of a beekeeping family showed sweet timing and wings on his heels as he popped up at three key moments to punish the sloppy Highlanders.

They are in financial dire straits off the field but the Rebels are up to fourth in Super Rugby with five wins from eight games.

A good team they might be, but the Highlanders made them look really good at times.

Highlander Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens can't stop Darby Lancaster from scoring the first of...
Highlander Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens can't stop Darby Lancaster from scoring the first of three tries in Melbourne on Saturday night. Photo: Getty Images
The Highlanders again started poorly, again struggled when the pace of the game got hot, again made far too many errors in crucial situations, and again delivered an erratic performance with the boot.

A promising enough start to the season has slipped into the rear view mirror as the Highlanders plummet to 10th with two wins from seven games, and a tricky clash with the Reds in Brisbane comes next.

They need to get better – fast – but there has to be some concern over whether that can be achieved.

The Highlanders can still look a promising team when they get some flow into their attack.

Certainly, the likes of Sean Withy and Timoci Tavatavanawai tried everything they could last night to get something going.

But the good rugby came in spurts, not long periods, and spells of defensive solidity were followed by disappointing lapses.

There were early signs of a ding-dong battle as the lead changed hands in the first quarter.

Rebels halfback Ryan Louwrens scored the first of the home side’s seven tries after just two minutes, but the Highlanders struck back quickly with a wonderful line break from prop Daniel Lienert-Brown and a try from close range by Sean Withy.

The Rebels looked good with ball in hand, led by first five Carter Gordon and their powerful runners up front, but their lineout was atrocious.

You can get by with a rocky set piece if you have pace out wide, and Lancaster showed all his speed when he toed ahead and regathered for his first score.

A nice lineout move led to a try by halfback Folau Fakatava. Photo: Getty Images
A nice lineout move led to a try by halfback Folau Fakatava. Photo: Getty Images

Then came a key moment when Highlanders fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens was pinged for a deliberate knock-on, and the result was a yellow card and a penalty try.

The Highlanders survived the 10 minutes down a man but then gave up a try on the stroke of halftime when Lancaster again showed his dazzling feet.

Sixteen points in the hole at the break, the Highlanders struggled to break through until the 57th minute when a nice lineout move led to a Folau Fakatava try.

That was, or should have been, game on. Instead, it set in motion a final quarter when the Rebels scored a try every time the Highlanders closed the gap.

Fakatava’s effort was followed by Gordon ending a nice move featuring numerous offloads.

Ricky Jackson’s try off a Highlanders lineout drive was followed by Gordon – the Wallabies playmaker finished the night with 20 points – grabbing a second.

And, after a dreadful Highlanders attacking lineout was followed by an even worse Rebels clearance that led to an Ethan de Groot try, the Melbourne men had the final say from a turnover and a 50m Lancaster raid to the line.

The Highlanders play the Reds on Friday night before returning to Dunedin to host the Force.


Super Rugby Pacific

The scores

Rebels 47

Darby Lancaster 3, Carter Gordon 2, Ryan Louwrens tries, penalty try; Gordon 5 con

Highlanders 31

Sean Withy, Folau Fakatava, Ricky Jackson, Ethan de Groot tries; Sam Gilbert 4 con, pen

Halftime: Rebels 26-10.