Super Rugby

Highlanders open campaign with impressive win over Blues




The Highlanders beat the Blues 41-34 in a frenetic game under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.

Rob Thompson, Akira Ioane and Teihorangi Walden all grabbed a brace in the nine-try thriller which saw the lead change seven times.

The game was end-to-end as the two New Zealand franchises traded blows.

But the game changed after a 54th-minute yellow card for Antonio Kirikiri.

The Blues led 24-31 at the time, but the sin-binning saw a 14-point swing with Walden scoring twice inside four minutes.

This was a cracking game, from start to finish. Both teams excelled with ball in hand, thrilling the crowd with skills from another planet.

The handling was so good that the game’s second break in play on came after five minutes; the first scrum, after 12 minutes.

Aaron Smith marshalled the Highlanders with another world-class scrumhalf performance, cementing his place as the game’s premier nine.

Thompson and Walden’s midfield partnership yielded a brace each as they split open the Blues defence.

Bryn Gatland, who was superb for the visitors, scored his maiden Super Rugby try to give the Blues a 3-7 lead. Earlier, Lima Sopoaga had kicked a penalty.

Thompson scored either side of Matt Duffie’s five-pointer during this exhibition under the roof.

Sopoaga passed 700 Super Rugby points with his second conversion, giving his team a 17-14 lead after 33 minutes.

The new ruck laws caused both teams issues, particularly with the tackle and release.

Before half-time, the Blues had some sustained pressure. The pressure, eventually, told.

Ofa Tu’ungafasi got a right shoulder, allowing Akira Iaone to break right, from the base of the scrum and power over the whitewash.

Gatland’s conversion and a late penalty gave the Aucklanders a deserved half-time lead.

The opening 40 minutes had four scrums and six lead changes.

Siate Tokolahi and Akira Iaone traded tries before Antonio Kiri-Kiri was yellow carded for a high tackle on Sopoaga.

Warden’s four-minute blitz and two Sopoaga conversion gave the Highlanders a 38-31 lead they would not surrender.

Gatland kicked his second penalty, going into the last 10 minutes, but Fletcher Smith cancelled it out immediately as the Highlanders held on for the victory.

Final score: Highlanders 41 (17) Blues 34 (24) 


Tries – Thompson (2), Tokolahi, Walden (2)
Pen – Sopoaga, F. Smith
Con – Sopoaga (5)
Drop –
Cards –

Tries – Gatland, Duffie, A. Ioane (2)
Pen – Gatland (2)
Con – Gatland (4)
Drop –
Cards – Kiri-Kiri (Yellow, 54′)

Match Officials
Referee: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
Assistant Ref 1: Nick Briant (New Zealand),
Assistant Ref 2: James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)



15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.

Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Dan Pryor, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes.

Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Augustine Pulu (captain), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Murphy Taramai, 6 Glenn Preston, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.

Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Michael Tamoaieta, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Antonio Kiri Kiri, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 23 Melani Nanai.

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