THE Highlanders reduced the Rebels to a rabble on Friday night with a 51-12 thumping under the roof in Dunedin to give halfback Aaron Smith the perfect 100th game celebration.
Home coach Tony Brown - who had also wound up the "un-Australian" Brumbies a week earlier - then twisted the knife with some brutal press conference honesty.
"It was good to score those tries and put away one of the weakest teams in the competition," said Brown, the former All Blacks five-eighth.
"We've got a massive challenge next week against the Blues.
"I'd say they're going to be at least three times as good as the Rebels."
The Highlanders' win was their biggest since 2002, in Brown's heyday.
His words should hurt the Rebels because they are painfully true.
After five games the Melbourne club has the worst record in the entire competition: winless with just one bonus point and an inferior points differential (-162) than even the noted whipping boy Sunwolves (-113).
If performance was the main criteria for Super Rugby survival then it would be the Rebels' heads on the chopping block, not the Force.
But the fact they are privately owned seems set to save the Rebels from that grisly fate, with the under-siege Australian Rugby Union not likely to run the risk of an expensive courtroom battle.
The job of coach Tony McGahan, however, is coming under increased scrutiny after another pitiful performance in which players failed to execute basic tasks.
Putting feet in touch under no pressure, a lack of line speed and intent in defence ... it led to a predictable six tries to two rout and the ignominy of two tight-five forwards dabbing in their faces after an 80th minute try.
The Highlanders, remember, were the last-placed New Zealand side heading into round six.
Their lengthy injury list includes All Blacks stars Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Liam Squire and Lima Sopoaga.
"Tony McGahan - is his job on the line going forward as well?" asked Fox Sports commentator Tim Horan.
"Because the players, at the moment, that was a pretty poor performance - and they'd admit that themselves - (captain) Nic Stirzaker said that.
"But you really need to start making some changes next week.
"You have to throw some younger kids in.
"Whether you put in (Sione) Tuipulotu in the centres or (Lopeti) Timani comes back - you've really got to try and change it up a little bit now because it hasn't been working."
Stirzaker was left to assess the damage after another flat effort.
He paid credit to the Highlanders' "clinical" kicking game and lamented 18 handling errors.
"In the first half we could barely get out of our own half," Stirzaker said.
"They played really well.
"We put ourselves under a lot of pressure with the dropped ball, especially in our own half.
"We just couldn't get out of there, we had to tackle the house down and it caught up with us at the end.
"We've got some exciting backs, we just need to find a way to stay in the game the whole time and not commit those little errors and get out of our own half."
The Rebels have the bye next week.
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