Highlanders back on top
Rebels blown away by seven-try rout
Last Updated: 30/03/12 9:30am
The Highlanders made an immediate return to winning ways as they thumped the hapless Rebels 43-12 at Invercargill.
The Highlanders saw their unbeaten start to the season come to an end when they slipped up to the Brumbies, however despite a mounting injury list they were too strong for the Rebels.
A four-try salvo during a 13-minute spell turned the game with the hosts never looking back from that point - with a further three scores rubbing salt into the wounds.
Ben Smith (2), Adam Thomson (3), Kade Poki and Jamie Mackintosh all crossed, while Chris Noakes added four conversions.
For the Rebels, they were left wondering what could have been a promising start - but they just couldn't add to James O'Connor's 12-point haul in the first half.
The boot of O'Connor had seen the Rebels seemingly take control of the match before the Highlanders hit back in the final seven minutes of the first half.
O'Connor landed two penalties and while Lloyd Johansson was sin-binned for a tip tackle on James Haskell, the Wallabies ace extended the advantage to 9-0.
However, with Johansson waiting to re-enter the fray, the Highlanders finally made their extra-man advantage count. A superb inside pass from Poki released Ben Smith, with the in-form full-back fending off Kurtley Beale and Nick Phipps to score. Noakes converted.
O'Connor hit back with a fourth successful shot at goal, only for home side to level the scores at the break.
Despite having been awarded an easy three-point effort after hooter had sounded, the Highlanders opted to run the ball and they were rewarded for their adventure with a try on the right for Thomson, with the Rebels defence having been stretched after several phases.
The Highlanders picked up where they left off after the interval as Thomson crossed for his second try on 44 minutes, with a brilliant pick up and pass from Ben Smith releasing the flanker.
Worse was to follow for the Rebels two minutes later as Poki won the race to Aaron Smith's box kick to dive over in the corner. Noakes converted.
The Highlanders put the game out of sight with their fifth try. A series of drives at the Rebels line eventually saw captain Mackintosh crash over. Noakes again slotted over the extras.
The Rebels were well and truly on the ropes and the hosts took full advantage - with a brilliant flick on from Noakes opening up the space for Ben Smith to scoot through. Noakes added his fourth conversion.
Thomson had thought he had scored his hat-trick only for the TMO to rule he had put a foot in touch - however the All Black back row was not to be denied as he crashed over from close range after a powerful drive from Ben Smith had been stopped short.
The game finished on a sour note for the Highlanders, though, as Doug Tietjens was sin-binned for deliberately killing the ball.