Highlanders earn bonus points

The Highlanders beat an injured Moana Pasifika in Auckland tonight.

They took three wins on the trot to beat Moana Pasifika 45-17 with a sublime second half performance at Mt Smart Stadium.

Moana Pasifika was a shadow of the team that lost 59-0 to the Hurricanes last week, but it was the last quarter where the Highlander ran rampant.

Folau Fakatava injected energy from the bench, setting up two tries for Mosese Dawai and replacement No. 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, and Thomas Umaga-Jensen fended off three players to score.

In the forwards, Hugh Renton and Sean Withy were robust and Ethan de Groot was huge for the dominant scrum.

It was a very pleasing performance in the second half from the Highlanders earning a much needed bonus point win.

But they were ill-disciplined early on, coughing up the ball on a flurry of mistakes in the opening five minutes.

Moana Pasifika attacked, captain Solomone Funaki scored to lead 7-0.

The visitors wiped out the mistakes to strike back.

Pari Pari Parkinson, who was held up yards from the line, leaned his levers over Moana Pasifika’s defense to score.

That gave the Highlanders more momentum on offense and a huge scrum, which forced Moana Pasifika to collapse over the touchline, made a statement.

They used the width of the pitch to push the ball through multiple phases, with some strong plays from the forwards, before the backs stole the show.

Mitch Hunt, who brought the ball to the line beautifully, pulled in some defenders and popped it out to Sam Gilbert who charged through to score.

Gilbert converted his to give the Highlanders their first lead of the game, 12–7.

The rest of the half was like a ping pong match.

Moana Pasifika center Levi Aumua changed his angle on an enveloping ball and rolled through three defenders to score.

That put the home side back into the lead but, as before, failed to push through and let the Highlanders back in through the loose forwards.

Withy cleared the tackle to Parkinson who sidestepped tackles, tossing it up to Renton who knocked him over the line and crept forward.

But the Highlanders followed Moana Pasifika’s book and let them back in on a penalty, trailing by two.

Moana Pasifika got another chance as Aumua took off across the park throwing the ball wide for Timoci Tavatavanawai.

He was on his way to scoring until Fetuli Paea held him up in a save attempt and his forwards arrived to turn it around, giving them a 19-17 lead at half time.

The Hooglanders had a much better start to the second half and came 10 meters from the line.

The forwards had some solid plays, transferring the ball into the tackle, and Paea hit Smith’s ball on pace and scored.

Moana Pasifika, deadly from a broken play, charged onto the field and shot the ball through several hands until Ereatara Enari was caught in front of the line by Jonah Lowe.

Lowe was sent to the trash for not letting go, a huge call in the context of the tight game.

Highlanders captain Billy Harmon argued that Enari knocked it and the TMO agreed.

Lowe’s yellow card was reversed, he galloped back onto the pitch with a beaming smile, and the forwards had a big scrum to protect the ball and gain ground in the park.

The Highlanders then ran away in the final quarter to secure victory for Smith’s 350th first-class game.