Highlanders dispatch Reds

The Highlanders dispatched the Queensland Reds 40-17 in Dunedin on Friday night to secure the seventh seed ahead of the looming Super Rugby playoffs.

All they can do now is sit back and wait to see if they have to travel to Johannesburg to play the Lions or to Christchurch to play the Crusaders in the quarterfinals, something they might not know until about 5am on Sunday morning. 

Highlanders coach Tony Brown has maintained all week he'd rather play the unbeaten Crusaders, meaning he will be keeping a close eye on Saturday night's match between the Hurricanes and Crusaders in Wellington.

"It's going to be a cracker of a game - the Crusaders and Hurricanes - just as a rugby fan it's going to be pretty impressive to watch," Brown said.

"As Highlanders coach, I 100 per cent want the Hurricanes to win that one, so I'll be cheering them on."

A Hurricanes' win will mean the Highlanders play the Crusaders in Christchurch next Saturday night, unless the Sharks upset the Lions in Durban in the early hours of Sunday morning.

"I doubt I'd be up [to watch it], but I'd check it when I wake up," Brown said. 

Waiting to find out their fate might be tougher than their game at Forsyth Barr Stadium against the bumbling Reds. 

The Highlanders, without stars Ben Smith and Aaron Smith, outscored the visitors six tries to three to secure a bonus point win in their final regular season match.

First-five eighth Lima Sopoaga, in his first Super Rugby start since pinging a hamstring in round three (March 11), kicked four conversions, while loose forward Liam Squire, playing his first game since breaking his thumb against the Cheetahs in May, impressed with his power running.

It was far from a perfect display by the home side - their kicking game wasn't up to scratch and they hashed a couple of tries -  but the result was never in doubt. 

Not only did the win extend New Zealand's record against Australian teams to 25-0 on the season, it ensured the Dunedin-based franchise will head into the playoffs having won 10 of their last 11 Super games. 

It's hard to imagine anyone wanting to play them when the sudden-death games kickoff next weekend, particularly if they play with the tempo they started with against the Reds.

Electric wing Waisake Naholo only needed two minutes to dive over inside the right-hand corner flag, the final result of a sweeping attack.

The Highlanders simply stretched the hosts from the get-go, and took a 21-5 lead into the halftime break after flanker James Lentjes and halfback Kayne Hammington crossed. 

Lentjes' try, highlighted by a brutal fend on Reds fullback Karmichael Hunt, was the Highlanders' second try inside the first 10 minutes and fears of a cricket score were real.

But, despite losing Hunt after 15 minutes with a leg injury, the Reds showed some ticker and had the better of the middle stages of the first half.

However, their finishing wasn't up to scratch and the Highlanders were never seriously threatened as they scored two more tries, including a penalty try from a monster scrum, inside the first seven minutes of the second half.

Reds flanker Caleb Timu scored the pick of his team's tries with 10 minutes left on the clock, when he dived over out wide, while Alex Mafi barged over via a powerful rolling maul to avenge the battering the Reds' scrum got in conceding a penalty try. 

The Reds will now head back to Brisbane to debrief a miserable 4-11 season, quite the opposite to Brown and the Highlanders, who would much rather prefer the one-hour flight to Christchurch than the 11,000km journey to Johannesburg. 

Highlanders 40 (Waisake Naholo, James Lentjes, Kayne Hammington, Tevita Li, penalty try, Ash Dixon tries; Lima Sopoaga 4 con) Queensland Reds 17 (Izack Rodda, Alex Mafi, Caleb Timu tries, Quade Cooper con) HT: 21-5


Photo by: DIANNE MANSON/GETTY IMAGES (Highlanders flanker James Lentjes scores the Highlanders' second try against the Reds on Friday night. Quade Cooper is also pictured).