March 25, 2023
The injury-hit Highlanders conceded the first try of the match, then scored five of their own in the first half on the way to a 57-24 win over the Fijian Drua in Super Rugby Pacific.
Brilliant scrumhalf Frank Lomani scored the opening try for the Drua after 14 minutes.
But the Highlanders responded with four tries in the space of 16 minutes through the middle of the first half, then added another just before the break to take a 33-12 lead to halftime.
All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith scored a sixth try in the fourth minute of the second half to increase the lead to 38-12, then Jonah Lowe made it 45-12 with the seventh in the 53rd.
Lomani scored his second try and kicked a conversion of a try to Tevita Ikaniveri as the Drua stayed in the match but a second try to Argentina import Martin Bogado and another to Cameron Millar gave the Highlanders a welcome bonus point and an emphatic win.
After starting the season with three straight losses they now have won their past two matches and move up to mid-table with the Drua who also have a 2-3 record.
"It's been a long time coming for us to string a whole performance together and really build those moments," Highlanders captain Billy Harmon said.
"That's what it's all about this week, that execution to build our momentum and that's what we've done.
"We know the Drua, they love to play that loose game and it's easy to get into that loose game when you're against it. But we just wanted to stick to our system and just play our game."
The Highlanders' plan for the match was disrupted by injuries, including the loss of two players only hours before the start of play.
They had to dig even deeper into their playing resources and rearrange the backline when replacement center Jake Te Hiwi had to leave the field injured after just 12 minutes.
Lomani scored only moments later and the Highlanders looked in trouble. But they had a resounding response as they ran in try after try before halftime.
Highlanders 57 (Jermaine Ainsley try 15min, Ethan de Groot try 21min, Martin Bogado 2 tries 27min and 73min, Sam Gilbert try 29min, Mitch Hunt try 40min, Aaron Smith try 43min, Jonah Lowe 53min try, Cam Millar try 78min; Sam Gilbert 5 con, Cam Millar con). Fijian Drua 24 (Frank Lomani 2 tries 13min, 75min, Taniela Rakuro try 33min, Tevita Ikanivere try 58min; Kemu Valetini con, Frank Lomani con). HT: 33-12
HIGHLANDERS (1-15): Ethan de Groot, Leni Apisai, Jermaine Ainsley, Pari Pari Parkinson, Josh Dickson, Sean Withy, Billy Harmon (c), Hugh Renton, Aaron Smith, Mitch Hunt, Jonah Lowe, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Josh Timu, Martin Bogado, Sam Gilbert
RESERVES: Jack Taylor, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Saula Ma’u, Will Tucker, James Lentjes, Folau Fakatava, Cam Millar, Jake Te Hiwi
DRUA (1-15): Emosi Tuqiei, Tevita Ikanivere, Samuela Tawake, Isoa Nasilasila, Leone Rotuisolia, Joseva Tamani, Kitione Salawa, Meli Derenalagi (c), Frank Lomani, Kemi Valetini, Taleni Rakuro, Kalaveti Ravouvou, Apisalome Vota, Iosefo Masi, Selestino Ravutaumada,
RESERVES: Zuriel Togiatama, Meli Tuni, Jone Koroiduadua, Sorovakatini Tuifagalele, Vilive Miramira, Elia Canakaivata, Peni Matawalu, Teti Tela
Referee: Paul Williams
Assistant Referees: Dan Waenga, Mike Winter