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Highlanders too slick for bungling Rebels

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 31/03/2017

The Highlanders have celebrated Aaron Smith's 100th game with a resounding 51-12 Super Rugby hammering of the bungling Rebels in Dunedin.

In another lopsided trans-Tasman contest, the kick-happy hosts scored six tries to two, capitalising on a stream of mistakes from the Melbourne outfit.

The result makes it eight wins from eight for New Zealand teams over Australian foe, with many of them as straightforward as the Highlanders found it on Friday.

The Rebels remain winless and will be rooted to last place at the end of round six, having done little to sway those who believe the number of Australian teams in the competition should be culled.

Their evening started with a match-ending injury to lock Steve Cummins in the second minute and never improved.

They spent long periods on defence, struggling with their handling and dealing poorly with the Highlanders' astute kicking game.

First five-eighth Marty Banks landed seven from seven shots at goal in a 19-point haul to help lift the Highlanders to a third win from six games, plus a bonus point.

All Blacks No.9 Smith was simply a conduit in his milestone game, clearing smoothly behind a dominant pack which strode regularly over the advantage line.

The Highlanders backs didn't set the world alight but did enough to cover the loss of fullback/captain Ben Smith, who was ruled out on Friday afternoon with a leg niggle.

Tries under the post to centre Malakai Fekitoa and outstanding No.8 Luke Whitelock midway through the first half were both set up by deft offloads.

The Rebels enjoyed their best period after halftime, with winger Tom English's spectacular try created by an inside ball from Mitch Inman.

Highlanders second five-eighth Richard Buckman crossed from a quick tap before flanker Gareth Evans stormed 30m to score, befuddling the defence with a simple change of angle.

Fekitoa bagged his second try when he intercepted a lazy, looping pass from English before Reece Hodge crossed for a consolation Rebels score.

Barnstorming Highlanders reserve hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate had the final say after the hooker.

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