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Highlanders edge Brumbies in Super Rugby

NZN 25/03/2017 Matt Coughlan

The Brumbies have suffered another narrow Super Rugby defeat, succumbing late to the Highlanders at GIO Stadium.

The 18-13 loss continued the Brumbies' drought against New Zealand sides and reopened the wounds from last year's six-point quarter-final defeat to the Highlanders at the same venue.

With the Brumbies attempting to grind out the win, Aki Seiuli charged over from close range to put the Highlanders in front for the first time with seven minutes remaining.

While the home side piled the pressure on the Highlanders in the dying minutes, the visitors stood firm and repelled the Brumbies from their own try line.

Desperate defence fended off a Brumbies rolling maul after the siren in front of a crowd of 11,125.

The Brumbies looked set to keep the Highlanders scoreless in the first half until Richard Buckman fired the ball wide, finding exciting young winger Sio Tomkinson in space on the right to score his first Super Rugby try.

A 42-metre Wharenui Hawera penalty goal opened the scoring for the Brumbies after an ugly first 20 minutes during which neither side could take the ascendancy.

The Brumbies pulled off a brilliant set play from a line-out with flanker Chris Alcock breaking through on the short side to pick up his first try for the club and open up a 10-0 lead after Hawera's conversion just before the half-hour mark.

After going to the break five points to the good, Hawera made it three from three by kicking another penalty goal shortly after half-time to extend the Brumbies lead to eight.

A marginal offside call denied the Brumbies a turnover and gave replacement flyhalf Marty Banks the opportunity to reduce the deficit to five and keep the Highlanders in touch.

With the Highlanders enjoying a strong period midway through the second half, Aaron Smith drew a penalty and Banks shaved the margin to two, setting up a grandstand finish.

But Seiuli's try proved to be decisive, sending the Brumbies to the bye with two wins and three bonus-point losses with performances which have garnered respect but not results.

It is now almost 400 days since they have beaten Kiwi opposition but they will get their chance to extend their record streak against Australian sides to 10 when they face the Reds in Canberra on April 8.

Coach Tony Brown was impressed by the Highlanders' determination to grind it out in the wet.

"It had a similar feel to the quarter-final last year when we were under the pump there at the end and we were able to hold out," he said.

"Tonight was no different and it was a bloody tough contest."

Despite the win, the Highlanders remain bottom of the New Zealand conference but will return to Dunedin hopeful of carrying momentum into their Friday night Rebels clash.

"For us to come over here and do the job, hopefully it will kick-start our campaign and we can get a bit of a roll on," Brown said.

Stephen Larkham said the break was timely for his young, improving Brumbies.

"The guys did everything right to win but sometimes it doesn't fall your way and that was the case tonight," he said.

"There's no doubting the effort. The execution was obviously difficult in those wet conditions and once you fall behind on the scoreboard and you've got to score a try, your chance your arm a little bit more than you'd like."

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