New winger big weapon for Highlanders

The Highlanders remained unbeaten in the preseason, with a 52-19 win over the Hurricanes at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium. 

Results at this time of year can be on the irrelevant side, but the Highlanders will happily take the confidence boost as they scored seven tries to three this afternoon. 

They played some good rugby, too, trying a few things and showing surprising accuracy for this stage of the campaign.

A trial game like this – played over three 30-minute periods – is mostly about giving players a chance to press claims for selection.

New winger Timoci Tavatavanawai was the main talking point.

His power and explosive attacking ability give the Highlanders a weapon they have not had in years, while he also showed his physicality on defence.

Highlander Timoci Tavatavanawai tries to break free of Hurricanes players in Dunedin this...
Highlander Timoci Tavatavanawai tries to break free of Hurricanes players in Dunedin this afternoon. Photo: Getty Images

Folau Fakatava rebounded from an early mistake to show plenty of enterprise, Jermaine Ainsley and Hugh Renton put in big shifts in the pack, and new centre Tanielu Tele’a and winger Martin Bogado made an impact off the bench.

Unlike last week, when they fell into a 21-0 hole against Moana Pasifika, the Highlanders started well on home turf once they shook off an ugly Fakatava pass that was intercepted.

The first try was a no-nonsense effort from prop Daniel Lienert-Brown but the real excitement was in the build-up.

Hooker Ricky Jackson and Tavatavanawai combined for a move that had the crowd of about 4000 on their feet.

The next score was a cracker.

Connor Garden-Bachop scooped up a tricky ball, did wonderfully well to beat two defenders, and found Fakatava, who scampered 25m to the line.

Folau Fakatava of the Highlanders charges towards the tryline. Photo: Getty Images
Folau Fakatava of the Highlanders charges towards the tryline. Photo: Getty Images
Simple numbers out wide allowed the Hurricanes to respond through James O’Reilly, before the home side had the final say of the first third with a Sam Gilbert penalty to make it 17-5.

Early pressure created a try to Hurricanes No 8 Brayden Iose in the second third, but the Highlanders made an immediate response through a couple of miracle balls before captain Billy Harmon used his strength to crash over.

Right about the 45-minute mark, the game started to lose its structure as both sides began emptying their (vast) reserves benches.

Just when it looked like the rest of the second third would be scoreless, the Highlanders scored a lovely try.

Quick lineout ball got to Gilbert, who delayed his pass perfectly for Tele’a.

The Blues import sliced through the defensive line and went in-and-out on the fullback to waltz over.

Another try arrived quickly, too, replacement winger Jonah Lowe showing real strength to score from a ruck.

To nobody’s surprise, the final third was a bit of a fizzer, though at least there were tries.

Matt Whaanga extended the Highlanders’ lead with a close-range try, and Kyle Preston got a consolation for the Hurricanes.

Whaanga, an under-rated midfielder who might play more this season than some think, grabbed his double by running through three defenders.

The Highlanders now have a short turnaround before their final preseason game, a more structured clash against the Crusaders in Methven on Friday.


Super Rugby preseason

Highlanders 52

Matt Whaanga 2, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Folau Fakatava, Billy Harmon, Tanielu Tele’a, Jonah Lowe tries; Sam Gilbert 5 con, pen, Ajay Faleafaga 2 con

Hurricanes 19

James O’Reilly, Brayden Iose, Kyle Preston tries; Brett Cameron con, Harry Godfrey con

Period scores: Highlanders 17-5, Highlanders 38-12.