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Highlanders grind out win over Brumbies

NZN 30/04/2016

The defending champion Highlanders have ended their mid-season Super Rugby slump along with a dreadful record against the Brumbies with a 23-10 win in Invercargill.

In a spectacle ruined by steady rain, the Highlanders lived on scraps of possession but scored two tries either side of halftime to seal an arm-wrestle.

First five-eighth Lima Sopoaga crossed on the stroke of halftime to hand his team a flattering 7-3 halftime lead.

He went on to score 18 points, ending the Highlanders' two-loss streak and notch just their second win over the Brumbies in their last nine meetings.

The visitors slumped to a fourth loss in six games to ensure the Melbourne Rebels will remain top of the Australian conference through 10 rounds.

The Highlanders will stay in touch with the three New Zealand teams above them, with the Chiefs, Crusaders and Hurricanes all lying in wait over the next month before the June international break.

The Brumbies employed a possession-based game which threatened to strangle the hosts of scoring chances.

They held a 3-0 lead for most of the first half, boosted by a yellow card shown to Highlanders winger Jack Wilson for a head high tackle on opposite Robbie Coleman.

A glimmer of possession late in the spell and a pinpoint pass from All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith sent Sopoaga across.

Fullback Ben Smith doubled their lead soon after the break after centre Malakai Fekitoa bumped off opposite Tevita Kuridrani.

Brumbies hooker Josh Mann-Rea, starting in the absence of injured captain Stephen Moore, rumbled over from a lineout drive but that was to be their last points despite continuing to dominate territory and possession.

They won 135 rucks to the Highlanders' 37 but were continually repelled by stout tryline defence.

Sopoaga took advantage of rare Highlanders forays to slot three penalties over the final 25 minutes.

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