Cape Town – The Highlanders did the Sharks a massive favour when they came back from a 14-point deficit during the first half to beat the Rebels in Dunedin – and keep the South African side’s Super Rugby playoff hopes alive.
The Highlanders won 43-37 after trailing 24-22 at half-time.
The Highlanders, who were down 17-3 after 19 minutes, ultimately proved too strong for their Australian visitors.
The home side scored six tries through wings Waisake Naholo and Tevita Li, scrumhalf Kayne Hammington, centre Tei Walden and replacements, hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate and lock Tom Franklin. Flyhalf Lima Sopoaga added five conversions and a penalty.
The Rebels, who needed to win to secure their spot in the playoffs, no longer have their fate in their hands and will need an under-strength Jaguares to upset the Sharks in Durban later on Saturday.
The Rebels were their own worst enemies however, blowing that 14-point lead – and the advantage at the break – but also failed to capitalise on an outstanding all-round performance by Wallaby flyhalf Reece Hodge.
Hodge scored a hat-trick of tries, landed all four conversions he attempted and converted two penalties for a personal haul of 29 points. No 8 Amanaki Mafi was the other try-scorer for the Melbourne side, while replacement pivot Jack Debreczeni added a late penalty.
In next weekend’s quarter-final action, the Highlanders will travel to either Sydney to play the Waratahs or Johannesburg to face the Lions, while the Rebels will be glued to their TVs to learn their fate.
15 Josh Ioane, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 12 Tei Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Liam Squire, 7 James Lentjes (captain), 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Jackson Hemopo, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Aki Seiuli
Substitutes: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Kalolo Tuiloma, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Dillon Hunt, 21 Josh Renton, 22 Matt Faddes, 23 Josh McKay
15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Tom English (captain), 12 Billy Meakes, 11 Marika Koroibete, 10 Reece Hodge, 9 Michael Ruru, 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Ross Haylett-Petty, 4 Matt Philip, 3 Sam Talaki, 2 Anaru Rangi, 1 Fereti Sa’aga Tetera Faulkner
Substitutes: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Harrison Goddard, 22 Jack Debreczeni, 23 Lopeti Timani