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Highlanders book play-off berth with win

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 9/07/2016

The defending champion Highlanders are assured of contesting the Super Rugby play-offs with a round to spare after beating the Jaguares 34-8 in Buenos Aires.

A niggly four-tries-to-one victory earned the Highlanders a bonus point, lifting them to third in the New Zealand conference, ahead of the Hurricanes on points differential.

The Highlanders could finish anywhere from first to fourth in their conference, depending on the result of final-round matches next week.

While the Highlanders host the Chiefs, the second-placed Crusaders are home to the Hurricanes, with all four teams winning this week and guaranteed to contest the quarter-finals. Only the top side will be granted home advantage.

The Highlanders never looked like losing a stop-start affair after leading 24-8 at halftime.

Newly-capped All Blacks flanker Elliott Dixon crossed twice in a brilliant performance.

He was one of five Test players rested from last week's comfortable win over the Kings.

Another was captain Ben Smith, with the fullback announcing his return with a try in the fourth minute.

Second five-eighth Rob Thompson dashed 50m after pouncing on a loose ball to extend the lead to 14-3 before Dixon scored the try of the game, with a wide-ranging move that involved multiple offloads, mostly from forwards.

First five-eighth Lima Sopoaga kicked six-from-six in a 14-point haul, including penalties either side of halftime.

The only try in an error-laden second half went to Dixon in the 64th minute.

The Jaguares, who remain 14th overall with 11 losses, squandered a number of chances through poor handling.

It all clicked when second five-eighth Juan Martin Hernandez cross late in the first half, but they struggled for their usual forward authority after captain Agustin Creevy exited early with injury.

The final match of their inaugural season is home to the competition-leading Lions.

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