26 Feb 2011

Highlanders top of New Zealand Super Rugby conference

12:52 pm on 26 February 2011

The Highlanders staged a barnstorming second half comeback to beat the Chiefs 23-13 in Dunedin on Friday night in a Super Rugby match overshadowed by this week's earthquake disaster in New Zealand.

Players wore black and red armbands - the colours of the Christchurch-based Canterbury Crusaders - and observed a minute's silence before kick-off to honour victims of Tuesday's quake, which has claimed at least 113 lives.

The Highlanders, surprise victors over the Hurricanes last week, struggled early against the Chiefs scrum but took an early lead when Lima Sopoaga slotted home a penalty after the Chiefs infringed at the breakdown.

With halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow directing play, the Chiefs were soon back on level terms and raced ahead when Mike Delany crossed for a try after 25 minutes.

But momentum shifted after the restart as the Highlanders went on the attack and were rewarded almost immediately when flanker Nasi Manu caught the Chiefs' defence flat-footed with a quick tap and barged over the line.

Robbie Robinson made the conversion to even the scores and the Highlanders took control of the match 20 minutes from full-time after Kerr-Barlow was sinbinned for stealing the ball.

Robinson kicked the resulting penalty to give the Highlanders a narrow lead, which they extended in the 74th minute, moving the ball wide for Kade Poki to score a try.

Another accurate Robinson conversion proved enough for victory as the Highlanders kept the Chiefs off the scoreboard in the second half to go to the top of the New Zealand conference under the new Super Rugby system.

With the Crusaders' match against the Hurricanes cancelled and declared a draw after the quake, the Highlanders will be on top for at least a week if the Blues lose to the Sharks in Durban on Sunday morning.