Injury blow to All Blacks gun sours Highlanders win
This article first appeared on Stuff and was republished with permission.
The Highlanders lost Shannon Frizell in the opening seconds of the game, with the All Blacks flanker twisting his left knee as he took the kick-off and carried the ball into contact.
In a promising sign, he managed to walk off the field unaided as he was replaced by Gareth Evans, but the Highlanders still face a nervous wait to see how the big No.6 pulls up.
Lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit then joined him on the sideline after 26 minutes as teammate Jermaine Ainsley crashed into his right knee in a painful-looking incident.
Selby-Rickit was in obvious pain as he left the field – replaced by debutant Max Hicks – and that sight does not bode well for the rest of his campaign.
The blows took some of the gloss off their bonus-point victory, which lifted the Highlanders off the bottom of the ladder.
The home side scored six tries to two, including a pair each for winger Moses Dawai and replacement hooker Rhys Marshall, but they were still wasteful in attack against an ill-disciplined Moana Pasifika side, which coughed up far too many cheap penalties.
However, Moana’s driving maul was a weapon all night as the forwards rolled up their sleeves in front of 7090 fans in Dunedin.
The Highlanders will also take some comfort from Hicks’ excellent debut. The Tasman youngster is regarded as a long-term No.6, and he showed his athleticism in the middle row after replacing Selby-Rickit.
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In a game that was often frenetic if not a touch messy, Dawai’s two tries boosted his confidence after a tough start to his career. The Fijian looked the most dangerous of the Highlanders’ backs when given some space.
Moana Pasifika brought its customary vigour to the contact areas, with midfielders Danny Toala and Levi Aumua, as well as standout winger Timoci Tavatavanawai, causing havoc with ball in hand.
Moana suffered an injury blow of its own, however, when it lost captain Sekope Kepu – the prop wearing an arm brace on the sideline after the half-time break.
However, after conceding 16 penalties Moana has bigger issues to address, and never gave itself a chance of winning the game.
The big moment
Replacement halfback Folau Fakatava’s try after 67 minutes pushed the lead out to 30-17, giving the Highlanders some much-needed breathing space. They would have been much further ahead, but Mitch Hunt had a poor night with the boot.
6.5/10. The contact was ferocious at times, but the accuracy was lacking from both sides.
The big picture
The Highlanders will play the Hurricanes in Dunedin next Saturday, and should approach that game with more confidence after ending their losing streak. However, the injuries to Frizell and Selby-Rickit must be a concern.
Moana Pasifika has another ‘storm week’ playing the Hurricanes in Wellington on Tuesday and the Chiefs in Hamilton next Saturday, but its discipline and set-piece issues continue to undo its committed work on defence.
Marino Mikaele-Tu’u. For the second week in a row, the Highlanders No.8 showed what a good player he is with a busy and physical performance. Plenty of tough carries and good lineout work.
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