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Brumbies beat Highlanders as Australian teams continue a strong start in Super Rugby Pacific

DUNEDIN, New Zealand (AP) — The ACT Brumbies turned in an improved second-half performance to beat the Dunedin-based Highlanders 27-21 in Super Rugby Pacific on Saturday for the third win of the season by an Australian team over a New Zealand opponent.

The Brumbies trailed 11-7 after a frenetic first half but took the lead for the first time in the 42nd minute with a try to winger Corey Toole, his fifth of the season.

The Highlanders regained the lead in the 58th minute with a try to their Billy Harmon. But the Brumbies rallied to retake the lead with a penalty to Noah Lolesio, then a match-winning try to replacement Lachlan Lonergan.

Lolesio kicked five goals from five attempts for 12 points as the Brumbies posted their first win in Dunedin in 13 years.

Sam Gilbert kicked an injury time penalty to give the Highlanders a bonus point.

The Brumbies lost 46-12 to the Hamilton-based Chiefs in round two in the only previous match against a New Zealand team this season. They got their season back on track with a 22-19 win over the Western Force last weekend and reproduced the best aspects of the match in the second half Saturday.

“We had a good look at ourselves after the Force game,” Brumbies captain Ryan Lonergan said. “We got a win last week but we still weren’t happy with the physicality in our breakdown.

“I think in the first 20 minutes here we were still a bit lazy in that area. Then we started to muscle up and we started to play a bit of good footy.”

The Brumbies were taken out of their comfort zone in a first half which was played at extreme pace and with little structure. The first scrum of the match didn’t come until the 37th minute and the Brumbies often found themselves under pressure at breakdowns.

The first try of the match came in the fifth minute when Lonergan was sacked behind a breakdown and the Highlanders toed the ball through to score through Nikita Broughton.

Tom Wright scored the Brumbies’ first try as they began to assert themselves late in the half and Toole put them ahead with excellent work in a left flank overlap just after the break.

The Brumbies settled into a more structured game in the second half and made good use of contestable kicks and a strong scrum. They were hard-hit by injuries and had to use three captains, finishing the match with James Slipper in charge.

“We spoke at halftime about getting a bit of control,” Lonergan said. “That first half was a guide. There was some massive passages and a lot of fatigue in the game.

“We felt we didn’t really control it as well as we should have but come the second half we got a bit more ascendancy and were able to control the tempo a bit more through our set piece.”

Flyhalf Damian McKenzie kicked 16 points for the Hamilton-based Chiefs who beat the Fijian Drua 46-29. McKenzie kicked seven consecutive goals before missing the conversion of the Chiefs' final try. He also had a hand in several of the Chiefs' six tries.

In the final match of the fourth round, the Auckland-based Blues beat the New South Wales Waratahs 12-10 in Sydney. The Blues, with three wins in their first four matches, extended their longest winning streak over any team in the competition to 10 matches to leave the Waratahs at 1-3.

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AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby