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The Highlanders had little trouble in dispatching the Lions on Saturday, claiming a deserved 34-15 victory in Dunedin.
The home side outscored their hosts four tries to two in another impressive attacking display reminiscent of their 2015 form which secured them the title.
The Lions, who were brimming with confidence after claiming their first ever victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton last weekend, battled from the outset and had to settle for scraps in the territorial and possession stakes.
They did well to limit the Highlanders to just one try in the first-half, although things went awry for the visitors in a five-minute spell shortly after half-time when the defending champions scored two tries in quick succession.
The Highlanders did most of the early attacking but their only reward in the opening quarter was a Lima Sopoaga penalty. The visitors thought they had scored the opening try in the 12th minute when Ruan Combrinck went over the tryline, but he was held up by in the tackle by Malakai Fekitoa.
The home side continued to dominate and in the 25th minute Matt Faddes crossed for the opening try after gathering a grubber kick from Sopoaga in the Lions’ 22.
The Lions were on the back-foot but eventually got their opening points via a Elton Jantjies penalty in the 32nd minute, which meant the hosts led 10-3 at the interval.
The Highlanders upped the ante when they came out for the second half and two minutes after the restart, the two Smiths – Ben and Aaron – combined brilliantly from a quick throw-in at a line-out before the full-back ran from close to his 22-metre line before crossing over in the left-hand corner.
Sopoaga added the extras from close to the touchline and one minute later Faddes intercepted a wayward Jaco Van Der Walt pass, just inside the Highlanders’ half, and raced away to score his second and his team’s third try.
With the score now at 24-3 the Lions seemed shell-shocked and they became sloppy whn trying to execute their moves. In the 56th minute the Highlanders capitalised on that when they won a turnover ball close to the halfway line and after the ball went through several pairs of hands Fekitoa rounded off in the right-hand corner before Sopoaga slotted another difficult conversion.
Three minutes later the All Blacks pivot added more misery to the Lions cause when he landed a drop goal from 30 metres out. That meant the match was over as a contest but, to their credit, the Lions didn’t surrender and were rewarded with two late tries.
First Rohan Janse Van Rensburg showed great pace by taking the outside gap inside the Highlanders’ 22 before dotting down in the 62nd minute and four minutes from the end Ruan Ackermann barged over from close quarters to bring some respectability to the score.