Highlanders devastated by Lions in Dunedin

18:32, May 28 2011
Highlanders
Lima Sopoaga of the Highlanders passes during the Super Rugby trial match against the Highlanders.
Highlanders
Sean Romans of the Highlanders passes during their Super Rugby trial match against the Blues.
Highlanders
James Paterson of the Highlanders makes a break during their Super Rugby trial match against the Blues.
Jimmy Cowan
Highlanders halfback Jimmy Cowan makes a dive pass clearance from a ruck.
Adam Thomson
Highlanders No 6 Adam Thomson collides with Hurricane Hosea Gear going for a high ball.
Adam Thomson
Highlanders flanker Adam Thomson wins a lineout cleanly during the win over the Hurricanes.
Highlanders and Hurricanes
The Highlanders and Hurricanes forward packs get ready to pack down a scrum.
Highlanders v Chiefs
Kade Poki of the Highlanders in action against the Chiefs at Carisbrook.
Highlanders v Chiefs
Jarrad Hoeata of the Highlanders is tackled by Mike Delany of the Chiefs.
Highlanders v Chiefs
Ben Smith of the Highlanders is tackled against the Chiefs at Carisbrook.
Highlanders v Chiefs
Adam Thomson of the Highlanders is tackled against the Chiefs.
Highlanders v Chiefs
Toby Smith of the Chiefs is tackled by Josh Bekuhis of the Highlanders.
Highlanders v Chiefs
Tawera Kerr-Barlow of the Chiefs is tackled by Jimmy Cowan of the Highlanders.
Highlanders v Chiefs
The players observe a minutes silence to remember those affected by the Christchurch earthquake before the round two Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Chiefs at Carisbrook.
Highlanders v Bulls
Highlanders wing Kade Poki scores a try against the Bulls.
Highlanders v Bulls
Highlander's halfback Jimmy Cowan clears the ball against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.
Highlanders v Bulls
Bulls centre Wynand Olivier tries to bring down Highlanders wing Telusa Veainu.
Highlanders v Bulls
Highlanders players celebrate winning as Bulls players look on.
Highlanders v Bulls
Highlanders first five Tony Brown tries to break away from a tackle by Bulls flanker Derick Kuün.
Highlanders vs Crusaders
Zac Guildford of the Crusaders makes a break during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Highlanders vs Crusaders
Jimmy Cowan of the Highlanders looks to pass during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Highlanders vs Crusaders
Matt Todd of the Crusaders tries to score during round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Highlanders vs Crusaders
Jimmy Cowan of the Highlanders feeds the scrum during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook.
Highlanders vs Crusaders
Josh Bekuhis of the Highlanders is tackled during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Highlanders vs Crusaders
Nasi Manu of the Highlanders makes a break during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Highlanders vs Crusaders
Tony Brown of the Highlanders passes during the round five Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Crusaders at Carisbrook, Dunedin.
Highlanders v Brumbies
Tom Donnelly of the Highlanders takes the ball against the Brumbies.
Highlanders v Brumbies
Some of the crowd starting a mexican wave at theHighlanders v Brumbies match at Invercargill's Rugby Park.
Highlanders v Brumbies
Highlanders captain Jamie Mackintosh runs out onto the field at Invercargill's Rugby Park.
Highlanders v Brumbies
Jamie Mackintosh is congratulated by Jarrad Hoeata after scoring his try against the Brumbies.
Highlanders v Brumbies
Brumbies player Henry Speight being tackled by Highlanders players Ben Smith, Kendrick Lynn and Siale Piutau.
Highlanders v Cheetahs
Sarel Pretorius of the Cheetahs is tackled against the Highlanders.
Highlanders v Cheetahs
Ashley Johnson of the Cheetahs looks to pass against the Highlanders.
Highlanders v Cheetahs
Adam Thomson of the Highlanders dives over for a try against the Cheetahs.
Highlanders v Cheetahs
Adam Thomson of the Highlanders makes a break.
Highlanders v Cheetahs
Colin Slade of the Highlanders passes against the Cheetahs at Carisbrook.
Highlanders v Rebels
Ben Smith of the Highlanders makes a break against the Melbourne Rebels.
Highlanders v Rebels
Kade Poki of the Highlanders runs with the ball against the Melbourne Rebels.
Highlanders v Rebels
Jarrad Hoeata of the Highlanders is tackled against the Melbourne Rebels.
Highlanders v Rebels
Kade Poki of the Highlanders runs with the ball against the Melbourne Rebels.
Robbie Fruean of the Crusaders breaks through the tackle of Shaun Treeby of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match in Nelson.
Robbie Fruean of the Crusaders breaks through the tackle of Shaun Treeby of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match in Nelson.
Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith gets his pass away during the round 10 Super Rugby match against the Highlanders at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith gets his pass away during the round 10 Super Rugby match against the Highlanders at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Crusaders back Israel Dagg is tackled by James Paterson of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Crusaders back Israel Dagg is tackled by James Paterson of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Zac Guilford of the Crusaders is tackled by Aaron Smith of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Zac Guilford of the Crusaders is tackled by Aaron Smith of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Nasi Manu of the Highlanders runs with the ball during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Nasi Manu of the Highlanders runs with the ball during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Matt Todd of the Crusaders is tackled by Jarrad Hoeata of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Matt Todd of the Crusaders is tackled by Jarrad Hoeata of the Highlanders during the round 10 Super Rugby match at Trafalgar Park in Nelson.
Crusaders v Highlanders
Tony Brown clears for the Highlanders against the Crusaders.
Crusaders v Highlanders
The Highlanders and Crusaders pack down.
Crusaders v Highlanders
Crusaders fullback Israel Dagg is caught in a tackle as team mate Sonny Bill Williams moves in to give support against the Highlanders.
Blues v Highlanders
Highlanders player Ben Smith being tackled by Blues player.
Blues v Highlanders
Highlanders players Matt Saunders and Adam Thomson tackle Blues player Joe Rokocoko.
Blues v Highlanders
Highlanders players Robbie Robinson, Jamie Mackintosh and Jason Rutledge.
Blues v Highlanders
Highlanders player Jimmy Cowan is tackled by the Blues' Alby Mathewson and John Afoa.
Blues v Highlanders
Highlanders player Ben Smith is tackled by Blues player Luke McAlister.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Tom Donnelly and Romana Graham contest a lineout during the Chiefs' 20-7 victory over the Highlanders.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Chief Leila Masaga turns into Highlander James Patterson, as Jason Rutledge also moves in.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Highlander Siale Piutau competes with Chief Richard Kahui.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Nick Crosswell feels the full impact of the Chiefs defence.
Chiefs v Highlanders
Ben Smith and Leila Masaga lock horns.
Hurricanes v Highlanders
Highlanders player Ben Atiga is tackled by Hurricanes' Jayden Hayward.
Hurricanes v Highlanders
Highlanders player Jimmy Cowan kicks the ball against the Hurricanes.
Hurricanes v Highlanders
Hurricanes' Jayden Hayward with the ball as Highlanders' Nasi Manu looms.
Hurricanes v Highlanders
Highlanders and Hurricanes players about to engage a scrum.
Hurricanes v Highlanders
Highlanders players John Hardie and Lima Sopoaga celebrating their 13-6 win over the Hurricanes.
Hurricanes v Highlanders
Highlanders player Jimmy Cowan about to pass the ball out against the Hurricanes.
Highlanders v Lions
Lions captain Doppies La Grange being interviewed by television while a gutted Jamie Mackintosh stands to left waiting on his interview.
Highlanders v Lions
Highlanders player John Hardie runs with the ball against the Lions.
Highlanders v Lions
Highlanders player Ben Smith passing the ball with a Lions player hanging off him.
Highlanders v Lions
A fight breaks out on the field during the second half of the Highlanders v Lions.
Highlanders v Lions
Highlanders player Shaun Treeby passes the ball in style against the Lions.
Highlanders v Lions
Devastated Highlanders come to terms with the fact their finals dreams are over, following defeat against the Force.
Highlanders v Lions
Jamie Mackintosh leads out the Highlanders in their controversial green jersey.
Highlanders v Lions
Adam Thomson looks to make a break during the final Super Rugby game at Carisbrook against the Force.
Highlanders v Lions
Jimmy Cowan looks for space as the Western Force defence closes in.
Highlanders v Lions
Highlanders captain Jamie Mackintosh gets some support from mum.
Highlanders v Force
The Highlanders running onto the ground in their new jerseys.
Highlanders v Force
Highlanders player Siale Piutau running with the ball with Force David Smith tackling.
Blues v Highlanders
Blues loosehead prop Charlie Faumuina is tackled.
Blues v Highlanders
Blues first-five Stephen Brett on the way to scoring aginst the Highlanders.
Blues v Highlanders
Highlanders number eight Nasi Manu is brought down by Blues openside flanker Luke Braid.
Blues v Highlanders
Jason Rutledge of the Highlanders in the thick of battle against the Blues.

The Lions stole a last-minute win at Carisbrook to put the Highlanders' play-off hopes in jeopardy.

Lock Wikus van Heerden capped of a superb performance with a game-winning try in the 80th minute as the visitors won 26-22 when it seemed as though the Highlanders would close the game out.

After leading 16-9 at halftime, the Highlanders were unable to put away a determined Lions team which defended better than a team running last in the competition.

Kade Poki
WRESTLING MATCH: The Highlanders' Kade Poki looks to break free during their tight loss to the Lions in Dunedin.

With plenty of controversy swirling around Highlanders rugby over a jersey change to be revealed next week, the Highlanders failed to stamp any dominance on the game.

Adam Thomson was ruled out before kick-off with his rib injury ruling out a return for what would have been his 50th game for the franchise.

Nick Crosswell took his place on the side of the scrum with Southland’s No 8 Elliot Dixon to mark his comeback from a dislocated elbow.

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A crowd of 5217 braved the chilly conditions in the Highlanders' penultimate game at Carisbrook before the shift to the new waterfront stadium.

The rust from the bye week was prevalent early, as they trailed 6-3 after Lima Sopoaga had kicked the opening penalty.

Lacking their trademark intensity at the breakdown and the likes of Jimmy Cowan making some uncharacteristic errors, the Highlanders looked very much a team needing to rediscover the momentum they had created before the break.

The Highlanders scored the first try of the game, a late cut from Shaun Treeby off Sopoaga exposing some lazy defence from the Lions loose forwards.

A third penalty from Elton Jantjies closed the gap to 10-9 before the Highlanders blew a chance when Jarrad Hoeata knocked on as the home team put pressure on the Lions line.

After Sopoaga had landed two more penalties to give the Highlanders a 16-9 lead, the Lions were guilty of turning down a gift after a midfield break by Doppies La Grange was followed up by Butch James throwing what should have been the last pass out over the sideline.

The best moment of the first half was a searing break from Ben Smith which started near his 22m and ended deep in Lions territory.

After Sopoaga missed a routine penalty 46 minutes in, the Lions made the home team pay four minutes later when big, bearded bruiser Josh Strauss took a quick tap metres out from the Highlanders line and swivelled his way to a try which Jantjies converted to level the scores at 16-all.

With 20 minutes to go and the teams locked at 19-all, replacement Highlanders flanker John Hardie produced a great run to within 5m of the line, but there was an ugly moment when Lions prop JC Janse Van Rensburg twisted the neck of Siale Piutau at the ruck and Piutau reacted with a punch which saw both forward packs come together for a frank discussion.

A penalty from Sopoaga with 13 minutes to go appeared to give the Highlanders the game-winning advantage but the Lions attacked in the final five minutes and were rewarded when van Heerden drove his way over.

The Highlanders now have the Force at home, with away games to the Waratahs and Blues to finish the season, meaning the challenge of getting to the play-offs just got bigger.

Highlanders 22 (Ben Smith try; Lima Sopoaga 5 pen, con) HT: 16-9

Lions 26 (Josh Strauss, Wikus van Heerden tries; Elton Jantjies 4 pen, 2 con)

The Southland Times