HIGHLANDERS 43 REBELS 12
Shaun Treeby of the Highlanders makes a break past James O'Connor. Photo: Getty Images
Melbourne Rebels are still looking for their first Super Rugby win overseas after a promising start degenerated into a 43-12 flogging by the Highlanders in Invercargill on Friday.
The Rebels led 9-0 and 12-7 in the first half after four penalties to five-eighth James O'Connor.
Nasi Manu of the Highlanders makes a break. Photo: Getty Images
But the Highlanders multi-phase play wore down the Rebels, especially in a 14-minute period either side of the break in which they scored four tries and 24 points.
They finished with seven tries to nil, scoring the last 36 points of the game.
Talismanic flanker Adam Thomson bagged a hat-trick and incisive fullback Ben Smith two.
Captain and prop Jamie Mackintosh and winger Kade Poki also crossed the Rebels line, as the Highlanders notched their fifth win in six games to go top of the New Zealand conference and the overall ladder.
It was a fourth loss in five games for the Rebels, who have lost all five of their offshore games since being admitted to the competition last year.
O'Connor and fellow Wallaby Kurtley Beale, both returning from injury, caused the Highlanders defence some early headaches with their running and passing.
The Rebels even outscored the home team 3-0 while centre Lloyd Johansson was sin-binned for a lifting tackle, which earned him both a yellow and a white card.
It all went horribly wrong shortly after Johansson returned to the field, as the Rebels conceded two tries late in the first half, which ended with a 12-12 scoreline.
Smith evaded attempted tackles from Beale and O'Connor and fended off halfback Nick Phipps for the Highlanders' first five-pointer.
With the match clock almost at 43 minutes, the Highlanders levelled the score when Thomson crossed at the end of another sweeping move.
Thomson and Poki crossed within five minutes of the restart and the Rebels' resolve diminished as the insatiable Highlanders pack dominated possession.
Mackintosh, Smith and Thomson each breached the Rebels' stripe in the last 21 minutes with Thomson just denied another try when he was forced out of play.
Rebels winger Cooper Vuna was warned by the referee for a lifting tackle on Poki, which looked just as bad, if not worse, than the one made by Johansson.
HIGHLANDERS 43 (Adam Thomson 3, Ben Smith 2, Jamie Mackintosh, Kade Poki tries Chris Noakes 4 cons) bt MELBOURNE REBELS 12 (James O'Connor 4 pens) at Rugby Park Stadium. Referee: Marius Jonker.