Highlanders condemned to seventh defeat

NATHAN BURDON IN DUNEDIN
Last updated 21:33 12/04/2013
John Hardie
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TOUGH GOING: Highlander John Hardie makes little progress as he is tackled by Nic White of the Brumbies.
Ma'a Nonu
Photosport
STOPPED: Brumbies hooker Stephen Moore stops Ma'a Nonu in his tracks.

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The ageless George Smith inspired the table-topping Brumbies to a 30-19 win over the Highlanders in Dunedin tonight.

The former Wallabies flanker, who returned to Canberra earlier this season, was into everything for 70 minutes at Forsyth Barr Stadium in front of a commendable crowd of just under 12,000.

Charge downs, breakdowns, general play - the 32-year-old was a class act throughout, including scoring a try after half an hour which helped the visitors to a 17-9 lead.

The Brumbies looked clinical and are a fantastic defensive unit, pretty much what you'd expect from a team at the other end of the table from the Highlanders who were slow to get to the breakdown early and paid the price, down 10-nil after just six minutes.

For a team trying to break a 10 game losing streak, it was not an ideal start. They are yet to win a game this season and lost their last three in 2012.

The boot of Hayden Parker kept them in the game through the first half, with the Brumbies guilty of giving away easy penalties whenever the Highlanders did string some phases together.

The Highlanders could count themselves unlucky not have been awarded a try to Hosea Gear just before the break after he had found space down the right hand flank, powered through a tackle and looked to slam the ball down over the tryline.

Television official Keith Brown, called out of retirement for this game, ruled it a knock-on. It was a 50-50 call and those calls aren't going the way of the Highlanders this season.

Kade Poki was a first half casualty with a recurrence of his rib problem.

The Highlanders' lineout wasn't great, the scrum became something of a lottery and their chasing line did not always back up the additional kicking which was employed by Parker.

Mose Tuiali'i, one poor attempt at claiming a high kick aside, was the most effective of the Highlanders with ball in hand, although TJ Ioane had his moments.

They lost little with Parker and Fumiaki Tanaka as their inside backs, with All Blacks Colin Slade and Aaron Smith on the bench.

Parker tried to take on the line, was confident from the tee, kicked to space when the opportunity allowed and defended as well as a No 10 should.

Tanaka wasn't out of his depth, although his pass wasn't the laser it's been talked up as.

The Highlanders had no shortage of players trying their hearts out, particularly Brad Thorn, Jamie Mackintosh and John Hardie, but their error rate was criminally high and players like Gear will not enjoy the replays of their handling mistakes.

Aaron Smith tried to spark something off the bench and sniped his way to a try with five minutes on the clock.

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The game was put to bed with just under half an hour to go, when the Brumbies line speed put enough pressure on to force a turnover and send Joe Tomane 40m to the tryline.

The Highlanders have now lost seven games to start the season, their worst record in Super Rugby, and 10 games in a row going back to last year.

They head to Christchurch next week before looking towards their second bye and a chance to regroup, or something.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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