Highlanders hold off Brumbies to register fourth win

The Otago Highlanders stunned the ACT Brumbies with two first-half tries in as many minutes then weathered a spirited fightback with 14 men to grind out a scrappy 26-20 victory in their Super Rugby match in Invercargill on Friday.

The surprise package of the competition, the Highlanders have now won four of their first six games after managing only three in total in the southern hemisphere provincial competition last year.

“It’s been a pretty good start for us,” Highlanders skipper Jamie Mackintosh told reporters. “I’m just ecstatic. Who’d have thought the Highlanders would have won four out of their first six. It’s been a great time.”

Facing a 15-0 deficit by the 26th minute, the Brumbies clawed back to 26-20 with two minutes remaining when replacement Patrick Phibbs touched down, but in the end the visitors were left to rue a series of handling errors and inaccurate kicking.

The Brumbies, who sacked their coach Andy Friend after the second round, have one win for the season.

“It’s pretty disappointing. Goal-kicking’s probably one of those things that let us down and we gave away too many penalties,” said captain Matt Giteau, who missed two conversions and two penalties.

“Turnover at the breakdown was pretty crucial.”

After a tightly contested start, the Highlanders stunned the Brumbies when hooker Jason Rutledge crossed twice in two minutes.

Livewire winger Kade Poki broke through the lines at midfield in the 17th minute and charged 50m to allow halfback Jimmy Cowan to scoop up a loose ball and deftly place a kick for Rutledge to run on to at the left corner.

Made amends
The hooker then barged across at the right corner a minute later, receiving from prop Ben King near the try-line after fullback Ben Smith sidestepped Giteau to feed the ball back inside.

Colin Slade’s 26th-minute penalty left the Brumbies reeling at 15-0, but Giteau made amends for his two penalty misses by stepping between two defenders to cross right of the posts seven minutes before the break.

Centre Christian Leali’ifano missed a penalty kick at the stroke of halftime to ease the pressure and the Brumbies went to the break trailing 15-7.

Reserve back Tony Brown booted two penalties in the second half to maintain the Highlanders’ eight-point lead but was sin-binned with 12 minutes left.

Outside centre Andrew Smith crossed for the Brumbies’ second try a minute later, but Giteau missed the conversion.

Although down to 14 men, the Highlanders mounted a furious drive that ended with a try to Mackintosh in the 75th minute, the captain ripping the ball out of a ruck and heaving himself over the line to all but seal the match.

The defeat was the fifth in six matches for a disappointing Brumbies side. — Reuters

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