Highlanders kick off with confidence-booster

Greg Pleasants-Tate, of the Highlanders, in the clutches of  Jake Gordon, of the Waratahs,  dives...
Greg Pleasants-Tate, of the Highlanders, in the clutches of Jake Gordon, of the Waratahs, dives over to score a try during a Super Rugby pre-season match in Queenstown yesterday. Photos: Getty Images
The Highlanders hit the ground running with a big win in their first Super Rugby pre-season match, beating the Waratahs 55-29 in Queenstown last night.

The home side took a while to get into its work but pulled away in a match which was played in three 30-minute periods.

The Waratahs led 10-7 at the first break but the Highlanders then scored the next 48 points.

The southern side eased off in the final eight minutes and the Waratahs scored three tries to give some respectability to the scoreline.

All and all, though, it was a great benchmark the Highlanders set, admittedly against a side which was ponderous and too slow in defence.

The Highlanders could tick plenty of boxes and there were some good individual efforts.

The home pack hunted well and was strong at recycling the ball, bringing continuity into its game.

But be warned. Yet more new rules have been brought into the breakdown and that is going to mean there  will be  be as many turnovers as dry houses in Westport.

Teams will be able to hang on to the ball for a long  period of time as the gate has been redefined and given plenty of advantage to the ball carrier.

The Highlanders backline looked lively and Ben Smith put together a reasonably tidy 40 minutes before he left the field.

Ben Smith, of the Highlanders, receives treatment for his tooth during the match.
Ben Smith, of the Highlanders, receives treatment for his tooth during the match.
There was obvious rust there from the All Black fullback – after all, he has not played a game in more than four months – but he made a couple of nice runs in the second 30-minute period and linked well. He also managed to chip his front tooth  during the game.

The Highlanders were a tad sluggish in the opening 30 minutes and could not get the ball for any length of time. But they gradually got better and shut the Waratahs out for 45 minutes of the game.

Midfield back Ron Thompson benefited, helping himself to three tries, reward for backing up and staying in support.

Big lock Jackson Hemopo started the try-scoring feast at the start of the second period, steaming off to a ball from a ruck and sprinting into a hole to run 22m  to score.

From there the Waratahs were caught out by the Highlanders running into holes and finding spare numbers.

New winger Tevita Nabura – who would not look out of place in the second row – scored a great individual try near the end, chipping the last defender and winning the race for the ball.

Though 33 players took the field for the Highlanders, there was not that lack of continuity and combinations which can sometimes plague  pre-season games.

The game became very loose in the final 15 minutes  when five tries  were scored.

The Waratahs looked good early but never saw the ball during  the middle part of the game and one can only do so much tackling.

The visitors had a far from smooth trip to Queenstown. Players and management got to Sydney airport on Thursday morning but their flight was cancelled after  they had been waiting a couple of hours.  The bad weather in New Zealand  was to blame.

Everyone went home and got back up yesterday to make the flight from Sydney to Queenstown.

Team management did not want to blame the side’s loss on the flight disruption but it would not have helped.

The Highlanders head back to Dunedin to train for a couple of days next week before heading to Brisbane on Wednesday, with the Brisbane Tens to be played next week.

The Highlanders will play the Waratahs again in the tens tournament.

 

Highlanders v Waratahs
The scores 

Highlanders      55

Ron Thompson 3, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Jackson Hemopo, Josh Ioane, Fletcher Smith, Dillon Hunt, Tevita Nabura tries; Ioane 2 con; Smith 3 con

Waratahs          29

Alex Newsome 2, Seb Wileman 2, Kelly Meafua tries; Mack Mason 2 con First third: 10-7 Waratahs; second third 33-10 Highlanders Crowd: 5500

 

Three to impress

Dan Pryor

After missing all of last season because of a knee injury he has plenty of energy in those limbs.

Made lots of tackles and got round the paddock in what was a wide open game.

Looks to have a good fitness base for the coming season and it is going to be a big battle for the No7 jersey.

Josh Ioane

For his first crack at this level, looked like a veteran. Ran the cutter well and was also strong in defence. More than handy with the ball in hand.

Rob Thompson

Obvious to see why the HIghlanders penned a contract with Thompson to keep him in the south for the next three years. Ran some good lines and was the man on the spot when the try-scoring opportunities came along.

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