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Highlanders put Rebels to the sword

Super Rugby

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - The Otago Highlanders cruised to a 51-12 bonus point win over Melbourne Rebels in Dunedin on Friday, heaping further pressure on the beleaguered Australian franchise.

The Highlanders ran in six tries to two, including a brace for Malakai Fekitoa, while pivot Marty Banks potted five conversions and three penalties.

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Malakai Fekitoascored two tries against the Rebels on Friday. Photo: Joe Allison / www.photosport.nz

The Rebels never threatened and remain at the bottom of the Australian conference without a win this season, a major concern as Super Rugby administrators look to trim the bloated competition.

Rebels captain Nic Stirzaker said the Highlanders came out strong and forced mistakes from his team.

"We put ourselves under pressure with dropped ball and we couldn't get out of our own half," he said.

"We had to tackle the house down in the first half and it just caught up with us at the end."

The result lifts the Highlanders off the foot of the New Zealand conference, although the Auckland Blues can overtake them with a win over the Western Force on Saturday.

It also means Australian Super Rugby teams have lost all eight of their matches against New Zealand opposition this year.

The Highlanders' scrum dominated from the outset, monstering the Rebels pack off the ball for a turnover in the 12th minute that set up a diving try from Fekitoa.

Luke Whitelock crossed for their second five minutes later to make it 17-0 after Tom Franklin brushed off a weak tackle and offloaded to the number eight.

The Rebels' error-rate climbed as the pressure intensified and they went into the break down 20-0, although it could have been worse as scrambling defence prevented two Highlanders tries on the line.

Melbourne regrouped after the break, finally holding onto the ball and launching some cohesive attacks.

They were rewarded in the 52nd minute when Tom English ran onto Mitch Inman's pass and zig-zagged through the Highlanders defence for a try.

However, the hosts snuffed out any hopes of an unlikely Rebels comeback with two quick tries to Richard Buckman and Gareth Evans, blowing out their lead to 37-5.

Fekitoa then intercepted a loose pass to score his second five-pointer, with Reece Hodge managing a consolation try for the Rebels with two minutes to go.

Even then the Highlanders had an answer, with hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate lumbering over the tryline from close range to wrap it up.

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