Rugby Union: Maka's firecracker

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The Independent Online
OTAGO HIGHLANDERS, the Super 12 leaders, scored a try in the final two minutes to beat Queensland 20-19 yesterday when the competition's leading two sides collided in Brisbane.

The Highlanders' replacement forward, Isitolo Maka, scored between the posts after scooping up a loose ball from the back of a ruck to stretch Otago's lead at the top of the table and record their first Super 12 win in Australia.

Until Maka's opportunist lunge, the Reds appeared to be heading for victory in Tim Horan's 100th match for Queensland. While the Reds coach, John Connolly, insisted his team had played better than Otago, the veteran Wallaby centre conceded Queensland erred by easing off in the final 10 minutes after leading from the start.

"We probably closed up shop a little too early and we should have kept the ball in hand more," Horan said. "We probably thought we had the game won but we're still improving."

The Highlanders' coach, Tony Gilbert, was relieved his side stuck to the game plan in the final 20 minutes. He had instructed the team to keep the ball in hand and it eventually paid dividends. "We had a lot of trouble breaking through their defence but I felt our forwards got on top in that final quarter," he said. "We were able to take advantage of that."

Slade McFarland, Auckland Blues' replacement hooker, also made a decisive contribution late in the game against South Africa's Cats as he barged over for a try three minutes from time to secure a 24-11 victory.

McFarland, whose parents named him after the Seventies pop group Slade, came on to shore up a home pack that was under pressure from the Cats, and on the rare occasion the Blues made a foray into the visiting 25, Slade picked up a loose ball and shrugged off two Cats' tackles to crash over.

Robin Brooke, the Blues' captain, said afterwards: "The score flattered us a bit but we made the tackles when they counted and they made the errors."

The Blues' All Black wing, Joeli Vidiri, was in sparkling form, and his contribution did much to alter Auckland's fortunes in the second half. The win left the Blues on course for their fourth successive top-four finish, while the Cats will struggle to secure a semi-final place.

In Canberra's Bruce Stadium, the ACT Brumbies overcame a six-point deficit at half-time to defeat New South Wales 27-16. Jeremy Paul, Adam Magro and Craig McMullen scored the ACT tries with Scott Staniforth and Matthew Dowling replying for the Waratahs. The win moved the Brumbies into a semi- final place, level with New South Wales on 18 points but ACT have played one more match.

The defending champions, Canterbury Crusaders, will welcome the return of lock Norm Maxwell for today's meeting with the Stormers in Cape Town. Maxwell has recovered from a tearing a thigh muscle in the second round and joins a changed team that now includes the forwards Scott Robertson and Clark McLeod as well as winger Norm Berryman.

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