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Highlanders earn first Super Rugby victory for 2017

Ihaia West of the Blues is tackled by Marty Banks of the Highlanders

2015 Super Rugby champions the Highlanders earned their first victory of the season by beating the Blues 12-16 at Eden Park in Auckland.

The Highlanders outscored the Blues by one try to none in the match and led 6-10 at half time.

The victory came at a cost though as several key players such as Waisake Naholo, Lima Sopoaga and Tevita Li were injured in the contest but they managed to hold on at the death and keep the Blues out.

The match was a scrappy affair with high numbers of handling errors and kicking errors from both sides which were not aided by a swirling wind.

The loss for the Blues is their second of the season which will concern coach Tana Umaga as they have not been able to match the form they showed in their opening 18-56 victory over the Blues in Round One.

The Highlanders made the stronger start to the match and almost scored the opening try in the sixth minute as Waisake Naholo offloaded to Malakai Fekitoa who went over to score but lost the ball in the tackle.

The visiting Highlanders were still the first to score though minutes later as Lima Sopoaga slotted a penalty kick after the Blues infringed at the ruck.

Fekitoa made ammends for his earlier mistake by pouncing on a ball after the Blues – Rene Ranger and Michael Collins – failed to gather the ball from an Aaron Smith kick.

Fekitoa got to the ball and traded passes with Marty Banks and scored the only try of the match. Sopoaga’s conversion put the Highlanders into a 10-lead.

Two Ihaia West penalties brought the Blues to within four points on the half hour mark and the scored remained until early into the second half when Sopoaga kicked his second penalty.

Handling errors from both sides littered the contest and several scoring opportuinites were missed as a result.

The Blues came the closest to scoring a try in the 64th minute with a break from George Moala but his final pass was intercepted by Richard Buckman.

Blues replacement Piers Francis cut the points deficit to two points but the Highlanders added a penalty kick a short while later.

The closing stages of the match were a frantic affair and the Highlanders were reduced to 14 players when Gareth Evans was yellow carded in extra time but the visiting side held on for the win.

Despite the victory, the Highlanders remain at the bottom of the New Zealand Super Rugby conference but are a point behind the Blues who earned a losing bonus point from the match.

Next week the Blues travel to Christchurch to play the Crusaders while the Highlanders travel to the home of current Super Rugby champions the Hurricanes in Wellington.

Final Score Blues 12 (6) Highlanders 16 (10)

Scorers

Blues
Tries –
Pen – I. West 3, P.Francis,
Con –
Drop –
Cards –

Highlanders
Tries – M.Fekitoa
Pen – L.Sopoaga 2, M.Banks
Con – L.Sopoaga
Drop –
Cards -G.Evans (81st min yellow)

Match Officials
Referee:Glen Jackson
Assistant Ref 1:Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Ref 2: Angus Mabey
TMO :Shane McDermott

Teams

Blues

Pauliasi Manu, James Parsons (C), Charlie Faumuina, Jimmy Tupou, Patrick Tuipulotu, Jerome Kaino, Blake Gibson, Murphy Taramai; Augustine Pulu, Ihaia West, Rene Ranger, George Moala, Rieko Ioane, Matt Duffie, Michael Collins.

Replacements: Matt Moulds, Sam Prattley, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Akira Ioane or Kara Pryor, Billy Guyton, Piers Francis, Melani Nanai.

Highlanders

1.Daniel Lienert-Brown 2. Liam Coltman,3. Siosuia Halanukonuka,4. Alex Ainley, 5. Tom Franklin, 6. Gareth Evans, 7. Elliot Dixon ( C ), 8. Luke Whitelock, 9 Aaron Smith, 10 . Lima Sopoaga,11. Tevita Li, 12. Rob Thompson,13.Malakai Fekitoa, 14.Waisake Naholo, 15. Richard Buckman

Replacements : 16.Sekonia Pole, 17. Aki Seiuli,18. Siate Tokolahi, 19. Joe Wheeler, 20. Jackson Hemopo, 21.Dillon Hunt, 22. Kayne Hammington, 23.Marty Banks.