WELLINGTON – The Highlanders held off a spirited second half by the Jaguares to claim their Super Rugby clash 32-27 in Dunedin Saturday.
The Jaguares, with a chance to leap from third to top of the South African conference took the unconventional move of stacking their bench with an army of internationals.
The Argentinians trailed by 13 points at the break but as they closed within striking distance at the end their chance of victory was undone by a string of penalties.
The Highlanders scored four tries, but all in the first half, while Jaguares produced three tries including two as they closed the gap in the second half.
"We did a great job in coming back to the game," Tomas Cubelli said.
"But the end of the game was a bit frustrating. We’ll have to double, even triple check some of the penalties at the end."
Highlanders skipper Luke Whitelock said the best thing he could take out of the match was his side hung on to win.
"It wasn’t all smooth, so we’ll take that as a positive," he said.
Neither side could claim their skill level was at its best with handling errors and defensive lapses rife, but they shared a keenness to attack which resulted in an entertaining spectacle.
They Jaguares made a flying start when Sebastian Cancelliere latched on to an aimless Highlanders clearing kick to charge 50 metres before setting up Matais Moroni for the opening try.
It sparked a run of tit-for-tat scoring – tries by the Highlanders and penalties by the Jaguares – until the last five minutes before the break when the Highlanders struck twice.
The first try to Sio Tomkinson came after the Jaguares failed to control the kick off after a Joaquin Diaz Bonilla penalty had put them 13-12 ahead, and the Highlanders regained possession.
Liam Coltman then crossed from a lineout drive on the stroke of half-time for the Highlanders to turn with a 26-13 lead.
The Jaguares immediately closed from the restart with lock Marcos Kremer galloping 22 metres for a try.
Adding veterans Agustin Creevy, Tomas Lavanini, Pablo Matera and Cubelli saw the Highlanders scoring chances reduced to two Josh Ioane penalties when Creevy set up a try for Ramiro Moyano, for the Jaguares to trail by five, the game was set for a classic finish until a series of penalties nullified the visitors’ pressure.