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Highlanders fight off Moana Pasifika to clinch first win of season

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

After seven long games, the Highlanders are finally on the board in Super Rugby Pacific.


The Dunedin-based franchise snapped their winless start to the season by defeating Moana Pasifika 37-17 at Forsyth Barr Stadium in a result that lifts them off the bottom of the table.

It wasn’t a pretty performance, one that was stop-start in fashion and dominated by close-quarters forward play despite the promising start it got off to when the Highlanders ventured into enemy territory following numerous Moana Pasifika penalties.

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That laid the platform for the home side’s forward pack to roll up their sleeves and give Mitch Hunt ample amounts of room to work his playmaking magic and send rookie wing Mosese Dawai over for his first-ever Super Rugby try.

Dawai crossed again for a well-taken brace near the end of the half after the Highlanders followed largely the same recipe of forward play via a rolling maul, leading to a Hunt try assist.

Both tries were as much good reward, considering they were the more dominant side throughout the opening stanza, as they were consolation for the loss of Shannon Frizell and Manaaki Selby-Rickit to match-ending injuries.

Given their high squad status and good form, those injuries will be of major concern for Highlanders head coach Tony Brown, as will the manner in which Moana Pasifika were able to score their only try of the first half.


Not long after first-five Christian Leali’ifano landed a penalty, a shanked cross-field kick by Hunt well inside his own half yielded a passage of determined attack by the visitors, who capitalised on the chance afforded to them by scoring through Levi Aumua.

Moana Pasifika, down a man after Veikoso Poloniati was sin binned for foul play late in the first half did well to withstand a barrage of pressure early in the second half when a series of rolling mauls should have put Brown’s side into a bigger lead than what they already had.

That seemed to be the theme of the second half for the Highlanders, and were it not for some stout defence by Moana Pasifika, and silly errors on their own part, they would have executed far earlier than they did.

The did eventually, though, when their compounding pressure proved insurmountable when reserve hooker Rhys Marshall finally converted from close range.


However, only moments later, a barnstorming attack by Moana Pasifika from a Scott Gregory spillage saw Tima Fainga’anuku soar over in the right-hand corner, despite the shoulder-charging efforts of Dawai, just after the restart.

That was as good as it got for the new expansion franchise, who sustained another yellow card when Alamanda Motuga was sin binned, leading to further tries to Marshall and reserve halfback Folau Fakatava late in the piece.

The win elevates the Highlanders into ninth place on the competition standings, two points astray from the final play-offs spot, currently occupied by the Hurricanes, with both teams to play each other in Dunedin next Saturday.

Moana Pasifika, meanwhile, fill the void left by the Highlanders at the bottom of the table ahead of next Saturday’s clash with the Chiefs in Auckland.


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