Highlanders cruise to victory against Sunwolves

The Highlanders have chalked up their fifth win of the Super Rugby season with a workmanlike 40-15 win over Japan's Sunwolves in Invercargill.

The final result was never in doubt, although the Highlanders looked rusty coming off the bye and weren't always convincing, particularly in the first half.

Their scrum was generally efficient and the set piece solid despite the absence of All Blacks flanker Elliot Dixon, ruled out late by a knee infection.

It took just four minutes for the Highlanders to punish the Sunwolves' slow start, the visitors' poor handling gifting plenty of early possession.

Good support play from the turnover set up the first try, the Highlanders shifting the ball wide for inside centre Malakai Fekitoa to score.

The Sunwolves, coming off last week's 50-3 thumping by the Crusaders, looked to have replied quickly when centre Will Tupou crashed over three minutes later.

But an accidental offside at the ruck meant referee Jamie Nutbrown disallowed the try.

The Highlanders continued to dominate possession and territory, helped in some part by some aimless Sunwolves kicking, but couldn't capitalise until the 35th minute.

They again shifted the ball wide, flanker Liam Squire crossing in the corner, although the final pass from Tevita Li looked to have drifted forward.

Halfback Aaron Smith added a third right on the halftime siren, constant pressure and quick work at the breakdown giving the Highlanders a 21-3 lead at the break.

The winning margin expanded rapidly from the restart, with centre Matt Faddes crossing twice in the space of seven minutes.

All Blacks fullback Ben Smith added a sixth in the 55th minute, after the Sunwolves botched a certain try when lock Sam Wykes knocked on over the line.

However, the Sunwolves' hard work in building phases was rewarded with tries to No.8 Willie Britz and Australian loosie Rahboni Warren Vosayaco as the Highlanders lost shape and momentum in the closing 15 minutes.


Photo: AFP Sunwolves' Jamie-Jerry Taulagi (left) is tackled by Highlanders' Luke Whitelock.