Highlanders thrashed in opener

Highlanders winger Tima Fainga'anuku takes the ball into contact as Sharks lock Ruben van Heerden...
Highlanders winger Tima Fainga'anuku takes the ball into contact as Sharks lock Ruben van Heerden tackles him in their Super Rugby game at Forsyth Barr Stadium tonight. Photo: Getty Images

That was not the start the Highlanders were hoping for.

A horror 10 minutes just before halftime proved costly in their Super Rugby opener tonight.

Three tries in seven minutes helped the Sharks to a 42-20 win at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

The Highlanders trailed 27-3 at the break, which became 30-3 shortly after.

While they fought back, it was too much of a deficit to haul in.

The side controlled possession for large periods of the game and had the better of parts of the second half.

But mistakes, missed tackles and poor kicking hampered their game.

It was the period just before the break that was most telling.

The Sharks dominated for 10 minutes as the Highlanders' defence faltered.

That yielded 21 points for the visitors.

James Venter's initial try made it 13-3 on the half hour mark, before two quick ones from Makazole Mapimpi made it 27-3.

It was a period of clinical play which the Highlanders were unable to match.

Indeed there had been encouraging signs early from the Highlanders.

A Mitch Hunt penalty gave them an early lead, but the Sharks hit straight back as Curwin Bosch slotted a penalty from close to halfway.

The Highlanders did most of the attacking for the next 10 minutes.

They controlled possession and attacked the breakdown aggressively on defence.

However, it was the Sharks that took the lead.

Bosch slotted a penalty following a lineout drive, to put the visitors up 6-3 after 25 minutes.

It signaled a momentum shift.

Venter tore away to score the first try on the half hour mark to make it 13-3.

A Sharks kick was dropped at the back and the visitors regathered.

Venter was put into space and he ran 50m to the line.

From there the Highlanders defence was exposed.

Mapimpi scored another five minutes later.

Sharks No8 Sikhumbuzo Notshe made a half-break and was able to offload in the tackle.

That left Aphelele Fassi to draw the final defender and put Mapimpi over in the corner.

He added another just minutes later, as the Highlanders defence fell to pieces and the Sharks struck from long-range.

Bosch added another three shortly after the break, before the Highlanders finally struck back.

Jona Nareki broke the line off a lineout over the top, before Dillon Hunt crashed over under the posts on the next phase.

Nareki went in for one of his own with 20 minutes to go, the left winger taking a cross kick and stepping his man to score in the corner.

Hunt was unable to convert, leaving the score at 30-15.

The Highlanders continued to probe, but it was the Sharks that struck next, Fassi crossing the line and Bosch remaining perfect from the tee.

Michael Collins crossed late for the Highlanders, before Fassi coasted through the defence once again to take the score past 40.

 

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