Super Rugby: Highlanders beat Reds 40-17
Last Updated: 14/07/17 2:57pm
The Highlanders showed a few signs of rust but were far too strong for the lowly Reds as they warmed up for next week's Super Rugby quarter-finals with a 40-17 victory in Dunedin.
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 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.
A below par home side made errors which cost 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 play-offs.
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 build up.
The Reds immediately gave away any momentum after the break when full-back 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 the Lions (61) after their respective matches against the 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.