A second-half scoring blitz from the Highlanders helped the hosts to a comprehensive 43-12 win over the Rebels.
A second-half scoring blitz from the Highlanders helped the hosts to a comprehensive 43-12 win over the Rebels in Invercargill on Friday.
It was an impressive return to winning ways for the Kiwi outfit, who bounced back from last week's loss to the Brumbies with a seven-try victory.
Adam Thomson bagged a hat-trick and Ben Smith a brace as the Highlanders clawed their way back from nine points down in the first half to draw level at half-time (12-12), before burying their visitors after the break.
The bonus-point win takes the southerners top of the overall standings and now lead the New Zealand conference – albeit temporarily depending on how other results go on Saturday.
The Rebels were in the game for forty minutes and would have fancied their chances of pulling off an upset after leading 9-0 thanks to three James O'Connor penalties.
Even against fourteen men, the Highlanders failed to get on the scoreboard after dominating the majority of possession. That all changed when Smith showed tremendous upper body strength to power his way over the line eight minutes before half-time.
Chris Noakes added the conversion and the hosts were back in the hunt.
O'Connor slotted his fourth penalty of the match, before the Highlanders responded with a well-worked try to Thomson that levelled the scores after the half-time hooter had sounded.
The home side started the second half in the same fashion they ended the first, through another five-pointer from their All Black flank. Noakes was once again unsuccessful with the conversion, but was on target three minutes later after Kade Poki touched down for the Highlanders' bonus point.
Great vision from Aaron Smith saw the scrum-half chip into open space that allowed Poki to chase down the ball and regather for a superb score – at that stage, the Rebels had conceded three tries in six minutes either side of half-time.
And there was still more to come as Jamie Mackintosh added his name to the scoresheet after crashing over from close range, before Smith broke clear to race in for his second.
Thomson then put the icing on the cake with his third try of the match to wrap up a dominant second-half display that will give them plenty of confidence ahead of their next match against the Stormers in a week's time.
Tries: Smith 2, Thomson 3, Poki, Mackintosh
Cons: Noakes 3
Pens: O'Connor 4
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 James Haskell, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Chris King, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Brayden Mitchell, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Doug Tietjens, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Phil Burleigh, 22 Buxton Popoali'i.
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Kurtley Beale, 14 Mark Gerrard, 13 Lachlan Mitchell, 12 Lloyd Johansson, 11 Cooper Vuna, 10 James O'Connor, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Gareth Delve (c), 7 Tom Chamberlain, 6 Jarrod Saffy, 5 Hugh Pyle, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Adam Freier, 1 Nic Henderson.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Rodney Blake, 18 Alister Campbell, 19 Michael Lipman, 20 Nic Stirzaker, 21 James Hilgendorf, 22 Julian Huxley.
Referee: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
By Dave Morris