Great learning curve: Dermody

Highlanders second five Sam Gilbert nails a conversion against Moana Pasifika on Saturday night....
Highlanders second five Sam Gilbert nails a conversion against Moana Pasifika on Saturday night. PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
Clarke Dermody would not have sounded the alarm if the Highlanders had been beaten by Moana Pasifika in the first round of the Super Rugby season.

Nor is he making an early call for a victory parade to mark a 35-21 win that was hard work in patches but featured some positive signs from a new-look team.

Dermody was certainly happy to bank a bonus-point win, his side scoring five tries to two and showing some composure after slipping behind at halftime.

"I think the pleasing thing was we’re a new team, playing our first game of Super Rugby together, and we had some young guys out there, and we were able to get momentum back in a game where we’d lost it," he said.

"That was an awesome learning curve for our team.

"And then to be able to finish and get the bonus point ... that was something we weren’t that good at last year, so I can see some growth there."

Few would have blamed Dermody if he had chosen to grumble at halftime.

The Highlanders were well on top before getting on the wrong side of referee Brendon Pickerill, losing lock Fabian Holland to the sin bin and conceding two tries.

"I think it was just the penalty count — I think it was 8-1 at halftime, so that’s always going to put you under pressure."

The Highlanders actually saw less of the ball than Moana Pasifika, but it was what they did with it that counted.

Dermody particularly enjoyed the final try, scored by Sam Gilbert after a devastating counter-attack.

"That was one of the best tries I’ve seen here.

"That was awesome to see — that, even in a game that was tight like that, the boys were still seeing space and feeling free to be able to throw offloads and finish like that."

Now things get tough for the Highlanders.

They head to Melbourne to play the Blues in Super Round and will seek to avoid a 17th consecutive loss to New Zealand opposition.

Dermody does not relish the extra travel for what should have been a home game but said there was something to like about the concept of getting every team in the competition together in one city.

Happily, it does not appear the Highlanders have too many injury concerns.

New centre Tanielu Tele’a came off with cramp, and Gilbert appeared to avoid damage after a nasty spill while leaping for the ball.

Highlanders fans had hearts in mouths when Holland slumped to the ground in the second half.

"I think he got a bang on the knee and it was sort of like a Lazarus moment," Dermody said.

"He was down but he jumped up and finished the game. He might just have got a bit of a shock."

Dermody praised the effort of Moana Pasifika and said it was easy to see the impact Tana Umaga and his new coaching team had made on the side.

Umaga, gracious in defeat, said the Highlanders showed his men how to win a game.

"We’re proud of the effort but we’ve just got to bank more minutes and more moments together," Umaga said.

"They just wore us down. That’s the quality of the Highlanders, and their ability to hang on to the ball and apply pressure to us.

"The positive thing for us is we know we can work on those and how to get better from that, and we will over the next seven days.

"It’s only natural that our boys will be down. They’re very proud of who they represent, as they should be.

"But they’ve got to learn that this is professional sport. You can only be down for a couple of hours and then you’ve got to look at the positives and where we need to get better."

Moana Pasifika looked noticeably fitter than last season and Umaga acknowledged that had been identified as an area that needed major improvement.

He also praised the impact of former long-serving Hurricanes and All Blacks winger Julian Savea as he embarked on a new phase of his career as a midfield back.

Moana Pasifika will next play the derby against the Fijian Drua, who were beaten 34-10 by the Blues in Whangarei on Saturday.

The Reds beat the Waratahs 40-22, and the Hurricanes thumped the Force 44-14.