Super Rugby playoffs: Highlanders survive to beat Brumbies 15-9 in Canberra

The Highlanders are the first Super Rugby semi-finalist, after they beat the Brumbies 15-9 in Canberra

Super Rugby playoffs: Highlanders survive to beat Brumbies 15-9 in Canberra
Waisake Naholo scored in the Highlanders triumph (image via: stuff.co.nz)

The reigning champion Highlanders are through to the Super Rugby semi-finals, after defeating the Brumbies 15-9 in Canberra

Outscoring their opponents two tries to nil, the Highlanders were the better side for much of the game yet nearly had the win taken from them when the Brumbies attacked in the final moments.

A strong defensive effort held the hosts at bay though, meaning tries from Waisake Naholo and Liam Squire proved to be enough for the Kiwi outfit to roll on. 

Naholo finally crosses to give 'Landers half-time lead

Having beaten the Brumbies earlier this season on home soil, the Highlanders came into the quarter-final as favourites even though the game would be played at GIO Stadium in the Australian capital. 

The horrible conditions evened it up somewhat, yet the visitors started the fastest and came close to crossing the line in the opening moments before eventually having to settle for a Lima Sopoaga penalty goal. 

Aaron Smith was crucial to the Highlanders victory (image via: stuff.co.nz)

The home side used their usual tactics of utilising the set-piece as their main form gaining territory. A couple of early scrum penalties set-up a lineout in the Highlanders half, and with the ball recycled Tevita Kuridrani broke and was bought down just short of the line.

A Highlander was adjudged to be in an offside position, and Christian Lealiifano knocked over the resulting penalty, before then doubling his personal score with another penalty seven minutes later.

Then, in the 36th minute, the territorial advantage the Highlanders had built paid off as they crossed for the game's first try. Playing under an advantage, the ball was shipped wide and captain Shane Christie provided the last pass for Naholo who cantered over in the corner.

Referee Angus Gardner went back to also yellow card Matt Toomua, and with Sopoaga's conversion the Highlanders took a 10-6 lead with them to the break.

Highlanders defence stands up to confirm semi-final spot

After another Lealiifano penalty dragged the Brumbies to within one point, before a Sopoaga interception broke the game open. 

Timing his grab to perfection, Sopoaga stole the ball from Tomas Cubelli before popping to Matt Faddes who was dragged down just short of the line. Aaron Smith then spotted the space and passed wide, with the ball eventually reaching Squire who dived over. 

Only leading by six points, the Highlanders were in a perilous position despite dominating much of the possession, and one spill of the ball would allow the home side to potentially steal victory.

The Highlanders defence held strong (image via: stuff.co.nz)

That turnover arrived with around five minutes remaining on the clock, and the Brumbies launched an attack which saw them awared a scrum five metres out. From the back of that scrum, a strong run by Lausii Taliauli looked to have given the Brumbies their first try, only for TMO George Ayoub to rule otherwise. 

Still in control of the pill, the Brumbies battered at the Highlanders line for well over five minutes but could find no way through. The defensive effort from the away side was supreme, and three minutes after the 80 minute siren they finally forced the turnover which secured the win and a place in next weekend's semi-finals.