Highlanders bounce back with a vengeance
The Highlanders proved it's too early to write off their playoff aspirations with a 13-6 win over the Hurricanes at Invercargill's Rugby Park last night.
After two straight losses to the Blues and Chiefs it looked as if an injury-struck Highlanders were in danger of fading away over the final part of this extended Super rugby season.
Back they came with a vengeance last night, with All Black halfback Jimmy Cowan and fullback Ben Smith leading the way in a game which Highlanders coach Jamie Joseph described as "huge".
Smith's first-half try, the only one of the game, proved to be the difference between the two teams and Joseph believes that the 2009 All Black tourist is ready to pull on a black jersey again.
"He's been brilliant every week but tonight he played defensively in the line and stopped one of the best penetrators [Ma'a Nonu] in the game," Joseph said. "On defence he played at fullback and brought the ball back well, he covered on the wing because of our lack of experience there with Telusa [Veainu] and when he had to make big plays he did – and for me that equals All Black."
Joseph was immensely proud of the way his team performed in trying conditions in front of a 7000-strong crowd at Rugby Park.
With the rain falling it was left to the likes of skipper Jamie Mackintosh to inspire his forwards into providing a decent enough platform for Cowan and teenage first-five Lima Sopoaga to try to control the game.
While Sopoaga missed a kickable penalty early on, he landed the ones that mattered.
"What I saw was a 19-year-old boy against quality opposition controlling the game reasonably well under tiring conditions, kicking goals," Joseph said.
"He broke them in the first half when the defence was wide on us. For me he was gold."
The Highlanders' win will keep them in touch with the top six teams going into their bye week and with home games against the Lions and Force at Carisbrook to look forward to.
A week off may also give them a chance to get some of their injured stars closer to getting on the paddock.
"In terms of our team and the belief of our team (this win) is huge," Joseph said.
The Southland Times