Rugby: Highlanders rediscovering the ability to score tries

The last time the Highlanders scored six tries in a match was long before John Key took the political centre stage and at a time when a twitter was seen simply as a twit.

Before the exciting attacking performance against the Melbourne Rebels on Friday night - in the six tries to two and 40-18 win - the previous six-try effort was in March, 2005.

The Highlanders beat the Sharks 43-7 in Durban on that occasion, with fullback Ben Blair helped himself to 28 points, and half of the side's touchdowns.

There have been a somewhat mindboggling 79 matches for the Highlanders from that day on the South African coast to last Friday night, or more than 6300 minutes of rugby.

The team has scored five tries plenty of times, including in three matches last year - all which were lost - but has struggled to get above that tally.

In 2007, the last year of coach Greg Cooper's reign, the franchise scored five tries just once.

The year before was even worse in the try-scoring stakes, with the Highlanders not once scoring four tries or more. The side scored three tries in four matches but could not score a fourth try in any one match.

The Highlanders finished in ninth position in the table that year, obviously not helped by no bonus points through scoring four tries.

The experimental law variations, or the Elvs as they were known, did not help try-scoring for a couple of years, in 2008-09.

Defence dominated, matches resembled a game of force back and few teams could post big scores.

But as the new interpretations, which are more friendly to attacking teams, have come into vogue over the past two seasons, teams have been able to find their way over the whitewash.

A stark example of that came when the Hurricanes beat the Cheetahs 50-47 in Bloemfontein last Sunday morning.

But the Highlanders need to do more try-scoring if they want to be in the hunt near playoff time.

They have only two four-try bonus points, while the Blues, who appear to be their main rivals for the playoffs, have double that.

Loose forward Adam Thomson helped himself to two tries against the Rebels, including an outstanding 60m sprint for his second, to give him six for the season already, and 15 for the Highlanders since he first played for the side in 2006.

Fetu'u Vainikolo scored six tries for the Highlanders in 2008 but you have to go way back to 2002 to find centre Ryan Nicholas, now playing for Japan, who scored more. Nicholas scored seven tries as the Highlanders made it to the semifinals.

Jeff Wilson holds the record for the most tries in a season for the Highlanders, with 10 in 1998.

The only forward to have scored six tries in a season was Isitola Maka in 1999, the year the Highlanders made the Super 12 final, and also the year before when the Highlanders made it to the semifinals.

However, with more games being played and the standard of opposition more variable, it could be argued try-scoring is easier than, say, 10 years ago.

Whatever the arguments, the key to success for the Highlanders this season appears to be their ability to get over the try line.

Tries in season: 


2006: 21 (13 games played)
2007: 24
2008: 29
2009: 32
2010: 34
2011: 20 (eight games played so far)



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