Naholo class leaves Rebels in playoffs limbo

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Saturday, July 14, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Sniffing a chance to seal a playoffs place, the Rebels took the play deep into the Highlanders' 22m area in injury time but a silky looking move was shut off with a superb tackle by Naholo and support work at the ruck by replacement Matt Faddes for a penalty to be awarded allowing the Highlanders to clear the ball for touch to end the game.

That left the Rebels waiting for other results over night to learn if they will gain a playoffs berth.

It took 65 minutes before the Highlanders got in front, this after Rebels first five-eighths Reece Hodge had picked off three tries, two of them from chargedowns. But down 3-17 after 17 minutes in the first half, the Highlanders initially took advantage to score two tries after halfback Michael Ruru was sin-binned for a foot trip of first five-eighths Lima Sopoaga.

But after Hodge posted his third try, the Rebels led 34-22 with 23 minutes before the home team's infusion of their bench made a significant impact as wing Tevita Li took a good chance to corkscrew his way over the line in the 62nd minute.

Then, after replacement outside back Josh McKay unleashed a 65th minute, 60m break from his own 22m, the Highlanders utilised the outstanding momentum for another substitute, hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate, to drive through from a ruck for the try which claimed the lead.

There was frustration for the Highlanders when second five-eighths Teihorangi Walden looked to have scored, only to be called back after his pre-try pass was ruled forward. But four minutes later they had their reward from strong forward drive at the line with replacement prop Kalolo Tuiloma powerful in gaining key metres while the try that finally secured the win saw fellow bench starter lock Tom Franklin score at the base of the posts.

Outstanding for the home side was lock Jackson Hemopo, who was so strong in the mauling play, while skipper and flanker James Lentjes had a memorable game with his support play a crucial link for the team.

It is doubtful Naholo has covered more ground, or had more chances in attack in an already impressive season for the side.

For the Rebels, Hodge had a controlling influence on the scoreboard but No.8 Amanaki Mafi was powerful in set-up play.

Opening with the intent of firming up their playoffs position from the outset, the Rebels posted their first try nine minutes into the game when maximising the return from a lineout play out from the Highlanders' line. Mafi made the most of a precise switch in the angle of the drive to go over in the tackle.

Mafi featured again after Naholo was unable to control turnover ball. The ball was switched to the short side where wing Marika Koroibete's inside pass found Hodge running perfectly in support to score the try.

The deliberate foot trip by halfback Michael Ruru on Lima Sopoaga resulted in a yellow card and space for the Highlanders to launch their recovery. Turnover ball from a counter ruck which was moved quickly on the blindside with Naholo getting the ball with enough space to get his sprint unwound to outpace the defence on a 60m run for the goalline in the 25th minute.

Then seven minutes later, a powerful rip by Hemopo provided more turnover opportunity and when into the Rebels' 22m Walden cut back on the angle to find halfback Kayne Hammington perfectly placed to run in the side's second try.

But three minutes later, Walden saw an attempted clearing kick taken almost off his boot by Hodge who had the simplest of run-ins for his second try.

The Highlanders were not finished however, and just before halftime a Sopoaga cross-kick was fielded by Naholo, who had nothing on but to pass to skipper and flanker James Lentjes ranging in support. He made ground before in-passing to the supporting Walden to get the Highlanders back within two points.

Scorers: Highlanders 43 (Waisake Naholo, Kayne Hammington, Tei Walden, Tevita Li, Greg Pleasants-Tate, Tom Franklin tries; Lima Sopoaga 5 con, pen ) Rebels 37 (Amanaki Mafi, Reece Hodge 3 tries; Hodge 4 con, 2 pen; Jack Debreczeni pen). HT: 22-24