Tough trial for Highlanders against Barbarians

HAVING A GO: Highlander Phil Burleigh takes a run at the Barbarians' line.
HAVING A GO: Highlander Phil Burleigh takes a run at the Barbarians' line.

The Highlanders struggled to subdue a spirited NZ Barbarians side at Invercargill's Rugby Park tonight.

After leading 26-19 at halftime, the Highlanders were able to take the friendly game 40-19 in the end.

Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph had talked pre-game about this match being a trial for those wanting starting spots for the final three weeks of the Super Rugby round-robin.

And what the 1500-strong crowd - pretty good considering the Southland Sharks were playing their final home game of the National Basketball League season across town - got was a typical trial game.

Joseph said his side struggled without some of the experienced combinations who have served the team well this season.

''I don't think we were clinical enough in that game, not as much as we wanted to. You get a bunch of red guys out there really ripping into us and they played very well.''

Joseph was pleased with Brayden Mitchell's performance, and the pressure which was put on his players in a game which he deemed really valuable to the Highlanders' buildup to their push for the Super Rugby playoffs.

Blindside flanker Lee Allan scored two first half tries for the Highlanders, and was held up over the line going for his hat-trick, but former All Black Rico Gear - nowadays living in Gisborne - replied with two of his own as the Barbarians enjoyed long periods of possession.

Playing for the Barbarians, Highlanders blindside Gareth Evans made the most of his chance to impress with some hard charging runs and equally hard defence.

John Hardie was a second half casualty, hobbling off holding the same right knee which had seem him miss a significant part of the Super Rugby season. It was a tough blow for Hardie, who was just about to be replaced when injured.

The Highlanders' hopes of putting a fluent performance together in the second half took a blow when Joe Wheeler was sinbinned for slowing the ball down.

In a game where it wasn't easy to stand out, Stags lock Michael Fatialofa was prominent with ball in hand, while Gear still looked a class act and Highlanders second rower Tom Franklin showed some nice athleticism.

The Barbarians finished the game with 14 players after Willis Halaholo was punished for David Hall's persistent infringing under the posts.

Scott Eade got a run early in the second half after Highlanders halfback Frae Wilson limped off and was tidy at the base of the scrum and ruck.

The Highlanders only made the game safe with six minutes to go when Jayden Spence crossed out wide and then Shaun Treeby picked up a loose pass and ran 40m for a more flattering final scoreline.

In the Highlanders' first XV game played as the curtain-raiser, Menzies College beat St Peters College 19-8 in an Eastern Southland derby.

The Southland Times