Super Rugby Pacific: Highlanders stage comeback for pre-season win over Moana Pasifika

Sam Gilbert celebrates a try against Moana Pasifika.
Sam Gilbert celebrates a try against Moana Pasifika. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Highlanders have staged a dramatic pre-season comeback to overhaul Moana Pasifika 36-28 in their first hitout of the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific campaign at Queenstown.

The southerners fell 21-0 behind over the opening 20-minute quarter, as the visitors run in three unanswered tries to hooker Sama Malalo, centre Pepesana Patafilo and flanker Alamanda Motuga, all converted by first-five William Havili.

Captain Sean Withy broke the drought with a try in the second quarter and the Highlanders defence kept their opponents out for most of the last three periods, while gathering some momentum of their own.

Moana Pasifika weren't the only team to show Pacific flair, with new fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Timoci Tavatavanawai and Jona Nareki among the Highlanders tryscorers, while centre Tanielu Tele'a and prop Saula Ma'u also caught the eye of coach Clarke Dermody.

"You're never completely happy with a game, especially the first hitout," he told Otago Daily Times. "Obviously, being 21-0 down is not good, so we’ll look at the start phase, finishing our tackles."

The Highlanders will host the Hurricanes in another pre-season clash at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium next Saturday, before opening the regular season against Moana Pasifika on February 24.

Highlanders 36 (Withy, Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Tavatavanawai, Nareki, Gilbert & Michaels tries; Patchell 2 & Gilbert conversions) Moana Pasifika 28 (Malalo, Patifilo, Motuga & Enari tries; Havili 3 & Lealiifano conversions)