Super Rugby Pacific: Highlanders notch third straight win as second-half surge overpowers Moana Pasifika

The Highlanders have claimed their third straight Super Rugby Pacific win, putting in a strong second-half showing to overwhelm Moana Pasifika 45-17 at Auckland's Mt Smart Stadium.

Ahead 19-17 at halftime, the southerners shut their rivals out completely in the second spell, running in four tries and scoring 26 unanswered points to secure an important bonus-point victory.

The result moves them from eighth to sixth on the competition ladder, overtaking Queensland Reds and Melbourne Rebels. Moana Pasifika remain rooted to the bottom of the ladder, as the only side yet to win this season. 

William Havili and Thomas Umaga-Jensen.
William Havili and Thomas Umaga-Jensen. Photo credit: Getty Images

In an error-ridden start from the Highlanders, the home team opened the scoring within 10 minutes, as captain Solomone Funaki went over from close range to take a surprise lead.

Once they found their feet, the Highlanders hit back twice to move in front. Lock Pari Pari Parkinson showed off his incredible reach, as his outstretched hand touched down from inside the 5m line, before fullback Sam Gilbert added the second try, when he was sent over by Mitch Hunt.

Gilbert's try was part of a 15-point haul that saw him - for the time being - overtake Jordie Barrett as the competition's leading scorer.

Moana Pasifika responded positively, with centre Levi Aumua proving too powerful for the Highlanders to contain so close to the line, and regained the lead, when Lincoln McClutchie converted for 14-12.

After already scoring one try, Parkinson turned provider before the break, offloading to teammate Hugh Renton to cross over for the Highlanders' third and a 19-14 lead.

A penalty late in the first half allowed McClutchie to close the gap to 19-17 at the break, cutting the Highlanders' advantage to just two points at the start of the second half.

After the break, it was all one-way traffic.

An ill-disciplined showing from the hosts opened the door for the Highlanders, starting when Aaron Smith, playing in his 350th first class match, put Fetuli Paea over after 50 minutes.

The introduction of Folau Fakatava in the final 15 minutes yielded immediate results, as he set up Mosese Dawai with an inside ball that put the winger through under the posts and again to set up fellow substitute Marino Mikaele-Tu'u three minutes later.

Down 40-17, Moana Pasifika were then reduced to 14 for the rest of the match, when winger Timoci Tavatavanawai was shown a yellow card and placed on report for a head clash with Hunt, forcing him from the field.

In the final act of the game, Umaga-Jensen sealed the win with the Highlanders' seventh try, as he ran from the 22, beating three defenders and scoring as the siren went. 

Victory marks an impressive turnaround of results from the Highlanders, who were 0-3 to start the season, after record losses to the Blues and Crusaders, and another defeat to the Chiefs.

Their resolve will be severely tested next week, when they host the Hurricanes at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Meanwhile, Moana Pasifika will go back to the drawingboard in their search for a first win of the season, with a daunting trip to Christchurch to face the Crusaders awaiting them next week.

Highlanders 45 (Parkinson, Gilbert, Renton, Paea, Dawai, Mikaele-Tu'u, Umaga-Jensen tries; Gilbert 5 conversions) Moana Pasifika 17 (Funaki, Aumua tries; McClutchie 2 conversions; McClutchie penalty)

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