Highlanders score stunner to beat brave Moana Pasifika

February 24, 2024 4:45 pm

[Source: NZ Herald]

The Highlanders scored a stunning try to Sam Gilbert to overcome a much-improved Moana Pasifika 35-21 in an entertaining clash on Saturday.

In a bruising encounter in front of 12,496 fans under the roof, the Highlanders were leading by only seven points inside the last 10 minutes when Gilbert finished a superb try sparked by flanker Sean Withy.

The Highlanders move the ball through several sets of hands – including a clever pass by Folau Fakatava – before Gilbert crashed over in the corner.

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The try finally broke Moana Pasifika, who led 18-14 at the break and signalled they are capable of taking some Australian scalps this year.

Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, on debut, immediately endeared himself to the home crowd with two tries in a classy all-round display.

The recruit from the Blues was the Highlanders’ most dangerous player with ball in hand, frequently beating the first defender with his pace and footwork.

He also used his boot well in the backfield, and already looks like a major acquisition for the southerners.

New No 10 Rhys Patchell also had some good moments, but the Highlanders’ backline looked a touch clunky at times and in need of some hard, straight running.

The Highlanders were made to pay dearly for a yellow card to Fabian Holland after 31 minutes as they repeatedly infringed to stop Moana Pasifika’s maul.

In his absence, the visitors scored two tries with a mixture of power, composure and accuracy.

As hinted at during their trial games, Moana Pasifika showed that their set-piece work has come on leaps and bounds this season.

Their lineout and scrum did more than hold their own, especially in the first half, pointing to the good work of new forwards coach Tom Coventry.

They also kept former winger Timoci Tavatavanawai relatively quiet on the Highlanders’ right edge, although he powered over from close range in the 60th minute to give them the lead in the seesawing battle.

Former Hurricanes star Julian Savea was also outstanding for Moana Pasifika in his first outing.

Getting plenty of touches in the No 12 jersey, Savea got Moana Pasifika over the gainline on several occasions, showing that he is going to be a key figure for Tana Umaga’s men.

Pari Pari Parkinson set the tone early for the Highlanders defence with some huge tackles, but he was fortunate to escape a card for a late hit on Moana Pasifika fullback Danny Toala in the ninth minute.

However, Parkinson’s overall output outweighed that moment of ill-discipline. Appearing fitter than last year, the big lock got through plenty of work in arguably one of his best games for the Highlanders.

The Highlanders now head to Melbourne for an intriguing Super Round clash against the Blues, where favourite son Tony Brown has taken on a short-term coaching contract before joining up with the Springboks.