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Highlanders secure play-off spot

MATCH REPORT: Highlanders cemented a place in the Super Rugby Pacific quarterfinals with a 39-3 thumping of Fijian Drua on Sunday, leaving four teams to fight for the last play-off berth.

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The home side ran in five unanswered tries in Dunedin to notch their biggest win of the season and leave Drua among the sides battling for survival in next weekend’s final round of matches.

It was a day to remember for the Highlanders’ outside backs as they capitalised on a wealth of attacking opportunities.

Fijian-born wings Jona Nareki and Timoci Tavatavanawai combined for three tries, two of them for Nareki, while fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens crossed once and created two tries with his passing.

Substitute Nikora Broughton completed the scoring with a late intercept try as the New Zealand side climbed to sixth in the table with the top eight reaching the playoff quarterfinals.

Drua, who have lost all seven of their away matches this season, remain eighth and in control of their own destiny.

Victory over the seventh-placed Melbourne Rebels in Lautoka on Saturday would guarantee them a quarterfinal spot.

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Any other result would leave the door open for the teams ranked ninth to 11th – Western Force, Canterbury Crusaders and Moana Pasifika – to grab the final spot.

Defending champions Crusaders and Moana will meet in Christchurch on Friday while Western Force host the third-placed Brumbies on Saturday.

Drua captain Tevita Ikanivere said his team will need to improve considerably against the Rebels at home, where his side have won five of their six matches this season.

“It’s going to be a big game. We’ll just learn from our mistakes and get our rucks sorted so we can beat the Rebels,” he said.

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“We couldn’t get any flow today [Sunday] because the Highlanders did a good job of disrupting our ruck.”

Highlanders captain Billy Harmon hailed his side’s sixth win this season as their best performance.

“The pressure was on, we talked about being clinical and knowing our role,” he said.

“It’s awesome to do it in what was probably our last home game of the year.”

The scorers:

For Highlanders:
Tries: Nareki 2, Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Tavatavanawai, Broughton
Cons: Gilbert 4
Pens: Gilbert 2

For Fijian Drua:
Pen: Armstrong-Ravula

Yellow card: Ilaisa Droasese (Fijian Drua, 80)

Teams:

Highlanders: 15 Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, 14 Timoci Tavatavanawai, 13 Jake Te Hiwi, 12 Sam Gilbert, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Ajay Faleafaga, 9 Folau Fakatava, 8 Billy Harmon (co-captain), 7 Sean Withy, 6 Oliver Haig, 5 Fabian Holland, 4 Mitch Dunshea, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Henry Bell, 1 Ethan de Groot.
Replacements: 16 Jack Taylor, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Saula Ma’u, 19 Max Hicks, 20 Nikora Broughton, 21 James Arscott, 22 Matt Whaanga, 23 Connor Garden-Bachop.

Drua: 15 Ilaisa Droasese, 14 Selestino Ravutaumada, 13 Iosefo Masi, 12 Kemu Valetini, 11 Epeli Momo, 10 Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula, 9 Simione Kuruvoli, 8 Elia Canakaivata, 7 Kitione Salawa, 6 Etonia Waqa, 5 Isoa Nasilasila, 4 Mesake Vocevoce, 3 Mesake Doge, 2 Tevita Ikanivere (captain), 1 Jone Koroiduadua
Replacements: 16 Zuriel Togiatama, 17 Emosi Tuqiri, 18 Samu Tawake, 19 Leone Rotuisolia, 20 Vilive Miramira, 21 Peni Matawalu, 22 Caleb Muntz, 23 Taniela Rakuro.

Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant referees: Stu Curran, Jackson Henshaw
TMO: Glenn Newman

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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