The Highlanders have defeated the Melbourne Rebels 33-30 at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin tonight to claim their third victory of the season.
Aaron Smith played a great game for the Highlanders, scoring one try and setting up others throughout the match, as well as contributing in defence with his increased tackling pressure, proving himself to be one of New Zealand's best scrumhalves at the moment.
The Rebels shot themselves in the foot several times throughout the night, with undisciplined play and momentary lapses of concentration hurting them, but it was also the Highlanders defensive pressure and ability to keep the ball in the Rebels half that made it difficult for Melbourne to get any flow and momentum going.
The game opened with an early try to Melbourne with Scott Fuglistaller who just scraped over the line following a nice break from Nic Stirzaker. This was to be undone just minutes later when Shane Christie went over first for the Highlanders, followed by another try to Aaron Smith who made two superb dummies and dove between two Rebels to take the lead. The Highlanders led 20-13 at the break.
The second half started in the best possible fashion for Melbourne after Higginbotham intercepted a pass on his defensive 22, ran half the field and kicked a grubber kick in the path of Angus Roberts, who scooped and tried in a lovely piece of play to take the lead.
The lead didn't last long for Melbourne when Lima Sopoaga converted a penalty, and then four minutes later played pass to an open Ben Smith to try in the corner.
The Rebels pushed hard for the next fifteen minutes, edging ever closer to the try line, but the Highlanders defence wouldn't let up. A lineout on the far side of the ground after 75 minutes saw a string of passes -- including an exquisite flick from Tamati Ellison -- find its way to Jason Woodward on the near side of the ground who fended a tackle and split three defenders to try with mere minutes left on the clock to trail by only three points.
Despite their best efforts the Rebels couldn't score again, nor could the Highlanders get the four-try bonus point, and the match finished at 33-30.
Once again, the Rebels had the majority of possession, metres gained and carries had in a loss, with 55%, 359 metres (almost 100 metres more) and 101 carries (to 89), but the Highlanders had 53% of possession in their oppositions half.
Scott Higgintoham led the way with 75 metres gained and 2 clean breaks, while Woodward was the overall top scorer with 20 points.
The win means the Highlanders go to 8th position on the ladder on 15 points at the start of the round, while the Rebels are still floating around 12th position with 11 points to their name.
The Highlanders next week will host the Bulls at Forsyth Barr Stadium in the early Friday game, while the Rebels will stay in New Zealand and travel to Waikato to play current Super Rugby champions, the Chiefs, in the early Saturday game.
HAVE YOUR SAY: What did you think of the Rebels performance? Was it still promising enough to give them confidence, or will another loss hurt them? Is Aaron Smith the best scrumhalf in New Zealand?
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