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Highlanders come from behind to beat Blues

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 08: Luke Whitelock of the Highlanders makes a break during the round seven Super Rugby match between the Highlanders and the Blues on April 8, 2017 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Dianne Manson/Getty Images)

The Highlanders extended their winning streak to three matches by beating the Blues 26-20 at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

The two teams were playing for the Gordon Hunter Memorial trophy which has been retained by the Highlanders.

Both teams scored two tries each and the match was decided by penalties with Marty Banks delivering another flawless peformance with the boot. He has yet to miss a kick this season.

The Gordon Hunter Memorial trophy has been played for between the two teams since 2002. Hunter coached Otago from 1992 to1995 and the Highlanders in the inaugural year of Super Rugby in 1996. He then went on to be a selector and assistant coach of the All Blacks from 1996 to 1999 before becoming the head coach of the Blues in 2000.

The result moves the Highlanders off the bottom of the New Zealand Conference and they are now directly above the Blues who are last.

The match also saw the return of All Blacks star Sonny Bill Williams who made his debut for the Auckland side his his first match since the Olympics last year when he was injured playing Sevens rugby.

Trailing 20-13 at halftime, the vastly-improved hosts slowly wrestled control of a clash between the two bottom-placed teams in the New Zealand Conference.

One of the few highlights of a scoreless second half for the Blues was the debut of cross code star Sonny Bill Williams, ending eight months out of rugby after rupturing his Achilles tendon at the Rio Olympics.

All Blacks midfield back Williams made one lightning break and offload but otherwise had little impact as the Highlanders dominated the closing stages.

It was the third successive win for the Highlanders, who improve their record to 4-3 while the Blues slip to 3-4.

Like their 16-12 defeat of the Blues when the teams met in Auckland in round four, the Highlanders were more physical than the northerners and treasured possession better.

Both teams scored two tries but the goalkicking of first five-eighth Marty Banks proved decisive, landing six from six in a 16-point haul.

It continued a sorry record for the Blues in matches away to Kiwi teams. They have won just one of their last 23 such games.

After Banks landed an early penalty, the Blues took control of the first half, dominating possession to set up tries to prop Charlie Faumuina and lock Gerard Cowley-Tuioti.

Their first five-eighth Piers Francis landed all his four shots at goal but the Highlanders kept themselves in the contest late in the opening spell, with captain Ben Smith bagging a try, followed by Banks’ conversion and penalty.

The home side emerged a more committed outfit after the break, exemplified by a powerhouse try to their All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa.

A contender for the best player on the park, Fekitoa’s try was his fourth in five games against the Blues, the team who famously shed his services in 2014.

With the scores then level, penalties to Banks in the 55th and 73rd minutes pushed the Highlanders team clear of the flagging visitors, who made a glut of errors while attempting to play catch-up rugby.

Next week in Round 8 the Highlanders have a bye before they take on the Sunwolves at Invercargill. The Blues host the Hurricanes on Saturday next week.

Final Score Highlanders 26 (13) Blues 20 (20)

Scorers

Highlanders
Tries – B.Smith, M. Fekitoa
Pen – M.Banks 4
Con – M.Banks 2
Drop –
Cards –

Blues
Tries – C.Faumuina, G.Cowley-Tuioti,
Pen – P.Francis
Con – P.Francis 2
Drop –
Cards –

Match Officials
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown
Assistant Ref 1: Mike Fraser
Assistant Ref 2: James Doleman
TMO : Shane McDermott

Teams

Highlanders

1. Daniel Lienert-Brown,2. Liam Coltman , 3. Siosuia Halanukonuka , 4. Alex Ainley , 5. Tom Franklin , 6. Elliot Dixon , 7. Dillon Hunt , 8. Luke Whitelock , 9. Aaron Smith , 10. Marty Banks , 11. Patrick Osborne , 12. Richard Buckman , 13. Malakai Fekitoa , 14. Tevita Li , 15. Ben Smith ( c )

Replacements : 16. Greg Pleasants-Tate , 17. Aki Seiuli , 18. Siate Tokolahi , 19. Joe Wheeler , 20. Liam Squire , 21. Kayne Hammington , 22. Fletcher Smith , 23. Matt Faddes

Blues

1 Pauliasi Manu, 2 James Parsons ©, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5 Scott Scrafton, 6 Jerome Kaino, 7 Blake Gibson, 8 Steven Luatua; 9 Augustine Pulu, 10 Piers Francis, 11 Melani Nanai, 12 George Moala, 13. Rieko Ioane, 14 Matt Duffie, 15 Michael Collins.

Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Sonny Bill Williams.

Source SportsDM & Afp