Highlanders run Sharks ragged in Dunedin

Aaron Smith was at his sparkling best as the Highlanders outclassed the Sharks 48-15 in a record-breaking Super Rugby win in Dunedin.

All Blacks halfback Smith was at the heart of a breath-taking attacking performance from the hosts, who ran the visitors off their feet in scoring seven tries.

Their seventh win from 10 games lifts the Highlanders from sixth to third in the overall standings before the remaining games in round 12 are played.

It was their highest score in 18 games against the Sharks and their highest against any South Africa team since 2002.

The listless Sharks lost their fourth game in a row – their seventh from 11 for the season – and look increasingly unlikely to match their semi-final status of last season.

They couldn’t contain the brilliant Smith, whose passing and kicking from the base were typically sharp but added a new dimension with a sharp running game, exposing some sluggish visiting forwards as the Highlanders roared 24-10 ahead by halftime.

They crossed for four more tries after the break, with Smith grabbing one of them and the others being scored by forwards Mark Reddish, Brendon Edmonds and Elliot Dixon.

The scores were locked 10-10 after half an hour, with Sharks prop Tendai Mtawarira cancelling out an early try to flanker Gareth Evans.

A willingness to keep the ball alive eventually told as wingers Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osborne crossed before the break. Naholo’s try was spectacular latching on to a cross-chip from centre Malakai Fekitoa to bag his competition-leading ninth try of the season.

First five-eighth Lima Sopoaga landed six from seven shots in a 13-point haul.

The only concern for the Highlanders was a head knock suffered by their All Blacks fullback Ben Smith, who left the field in the 50th minute.

The Sharks have plenty more headaches after beginning their tour of New Zealand and Australia with a performance which offered little aside from some staunch lineout drives.

Both their tries were scored by front-rowers, including a second-half effort from hooker Bismarck du Plessis, highlighting the one-dimensional nature of their methods.

They play the competition-leading Hurricanes next week while the Highlanders begin their South African tour against the Lions.

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