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The side beat the Rebels 42-27 in Sydney last night but did not manage to gain the bonus point which has put another nail in the coffin of the Highlanders’ final hopes.
The team had a chance to grab that bonus point at the end but halfback Aaron Smith bobbled the ball when trying to reach to the tryline and came up short.
Such is the shape of the competition, a win without a bonus point is the ultimate Clayton’s victory — a win without a win.
The Highlanders went in fits and starts. It really was the ultimate inconsistent performance.
The set piece looked great and was then poor. The backs coughed up ball mixed with running some good lines while the defence never looked composed and then put in some good hits.
The Highlanders rocketed out of the starting blocks and made it look easy. They then went to sleep in the second quarter of the game.
Rebels hooker Jordan Uesele than had a brain explosion early in the second half and was yellow carded when he kicked the ball away after being penalised.
The Highlanders scored a penalty try and further tries to lock Josh Dickson and winger Jona Nareki followed when he was off the field taking the score to 35-15.
But the visiting side got on the wrong side of the referee and went to sleep as the Rebels came back into the game.
The inconsistencies continued from the Highlanders as they scored with a minute to go but needed another try for the bonus point. However, they came a few centimetres short.
Referee Paul Williams bought into the inconsistency theme and did not add to the spectacle with some erratic rulings.
Best for the Highlanders were centre Michael Collins and loose forward James Lentjes, in his 50th match for the franchise,while lock Pari Pari Parkinson worked hard.
The Highlanders made a dream start to the game and scored within 90 seconds.
The side won a lineout and halfback Smith took the ball as first receiver.
He chipped the ball in behind the defence and it bounced up for Collins.
He grabbed the ball, managed to shrug off the last defender and went over to score.
It was a great start from and the Highlanders continued to looked a step ahead.
Rebels captain Matt Toomua should have been at least yellow carded just past the 10-minute mark when he tackled Collins high but referee Williams somehow just gave a penalty.
The Highlanders got on with the job and scored a nice try minutes later.
Jona Nareki found a gap in the midfield and sliced through. The ball was moved on by the forwards and then went wide. Sio Tomkinson was free on the outside and he went inside the final defender to go over.
It was looking easy for the HIghlanders but they gradually went off the boil and the Rebels came alive. Winger Marika Koroibete went over over out wide after a couple of missed Highlanders tackles.
Then, just before halftime, Rebels prop Cabous Eloff barged the ball up to go over.
Matt Toomua’s conversion cut the Highlanders’ lead to just 14-12 at the break.