The Blues beat the Highlanders 25-32 in an enthralling Super Rugby Pacific clash at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.
The Blues held off a spirited second-half fightback by the Highlanders to make it six wins from the two teams’ previous seven Super Rugby matches.
Caleb Clarke, Beauden Barrett, Hoskins Sotutu, and Stephen Perofeta all scored as the Blues continued their good run against the Highlanders.
Barrett left the game early in the second half after a big tackle on Fetuli Paea.
The veteran playmaker, bloodied and bruised, gingerly walked off the field never to return.
Barrett converted Clarke’s try while adding two first-half penalties for 13 points.
Perofeta converted his and Sotutu’s scores for nine points.
Tony Brown’s beleaguered side fought back valiantly after the interval
Sam Gilbert, bagged a brace, and Daniel Lienert-Brown dotted down for the hosts in an enterprising second stanza.
Mitch Hunt landed two penalties and two conversions (10 pts) in an excellent game at first-five eight. Hunt also set up Gilbert’s first try and had a hand in the other two.
The Otago men clawed back two 14-point second-half deficits only for the clock to run out as they searched for the equaliser, which would have taken the game into Golden Point extra time.
Mosese Dawai thought he had scored a stunning try a few minutes after Lienert-Brown crossed.
Had the try stood, it would have levelled the scores at 25-all – after a conversion in front of the poles – with 15 to play.
The TMO, however, chalked off Dawai’s try after the video replay showed the winger had knocked on in a previous phase after the restart.
Perofeta scored soon after to reopen the visitor’s two-goal lead, and despite Gilbert crossing again, Brown’s charges ran out of steam.
The Blues move up the Super Rugby Pacific log with their third win in five games. The Highlanders, however, remain winless and at the foot of the table.
The Blues led 18-6 at halftime after tries from Clarke and the brilliant Barrett gave the Auckland team a 12-point advantage
Hunt missed a second-minute penalty before the Blues took control.
The Blues led 10-nil after 11 minutes thanks to Clarke’s converted try and a penalty from Barrett.
The Landers’ flyhalf did put his team on the board with two penalties, but Barrett’s boot and the late score increased the home team’s woes.
Whatever Brown said to his men in the changeroom, it worked. His side came out firing, although, they were aided by Barrett’s injury as Leon Macdonald’s side began to stutter.
Gilbert scored soon after the restart before Sotutu got held up.
Sotutu did, however, get his try when he shrugged off four defenders to keep his side two scores after Perofeta converted.
Lienert-Brown crashed over before the hour to keep the Highlanders in the game.
Dawai’s score was chalked off soon afterwards, which seemed to take the wind out of the home team’s sails.
Instead, the Blues hit back through Perofeta to re-open the 14-point margin.
The Dunedin side could not make up the gap despite Gilbert’s second score with 10 minutes remaining.
Final score: Highlanders 25 (6) Blues 32 (18)
Tries – Gilbert (2), D. Lienert-Brown
Pen – Hunt (2)
Con – Hunt (2)
Tries – Clarke, B Barrett, Sotutu, Perofeta
Pen – B. Barrett (2)
Con – B. Barrett, Perofeta (2)
Referee: Angus Mabey
Assistant Ref 1: Mike Fraser
Assistant Ref 2: Mike Winter
TMO: Glenn Newman
Highlanders: 15 Sam Gilbert, 14 Ngatungane Punivai, 13 Fetuli Paea, 12 Scott Gregory, 11 Mosese Dawai, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith (captain), 8 Gareth Evans, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Fabian Holland, 20 Hugh Renton, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Vilimoni Koroi, 23 Freedom Vahaakolo
Blues: 15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Bryce Heem, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii (captain), 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 James Tucker, 3 Marcel Renata, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Jordan Lay, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Sam Darry, 20 Adrian Choat, 21 Taufa Funaki, 22 Corey Evans, 23 Stephen Perofeta