Highlanders dispatch Reds in Super Rugby return
WELLINGTON, July 14 (Reuters) - The Otago Highlanders showed a few signs of rust but were far too strong for the lowly Queensland Reds as they warmed up for next week's Super Rugby quarter-finals with a 40-17 victory at Otago Regional Stadium in Dunedin on Friday.
The home side had not played a competitive match since they beat the British and Irish Lions 23-22 more than a month ago and last played a Super Rugby game on June 3 when they lost 25-22 to the Canterbury Crusaders.
Waisake Naholo, James Lentjes, Kayne Hammington, Tevita Li and Ash Dixon all crossed for the home side, while referee Mike Fraser awarded a penalty try after an attacking scrum had splintered the Reds pack with the line exposed.
Lock Izack Rodda, replacement hooker Alex Mafi and loose forward Caleb Timu all crossed for the visitors, who finished the season with just four wins from their 15 games.
The home side showed elements of rust in the match with some errors costing them several points-scoring opportunities, but they also showcased their high-tempo, counter-attacking and brutal defensive pattern that will be a factor in the playoffs.
They raced to a 21-0 lead with Naholo, Lentjes and Hammington all crossing before the Reds scrambled their way back into the game when Rodda crashed over from a patient buildup.
The Reds immediately gave away any momentum after the break when fullback Hamish Stewart had a clearing kick charged down in the 42nd minute and Li pounced.
The Highlanders forwards then showcased their superiority at the set piece when they shunted the Reds backwards at an attacking scrum and Fraser awarded the penalty try.
The game lost a lot of its structure with the score at 33-5 with Reds hooker Mafi grabbing his side's second try, while Dixon crossed for the home side with both tries scored in identical fashion as they flopped over from rolling mauls.
Timu finished off the scoring.
The Highlanders had already qualified for the playoffs and with the victory ensured they will be the seventh seed.
They now must wait until after Saturday's games to determine where they travel for the quarter-finals.
The Crusaders lead the standings on 63 points, but could still be overtaken by South Africa's Lions (61) after their respective matches against the Wellington Hurricanes and Sharks on Saturday.
The Highlanders will need to travel to the team that finishes the regular season with the second-highest points total. (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien)