Super Rugby

Highlanders slay Blues to keep season alive

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Super rugby AU : Standings | Fixtures | Super Rugby Aotearoa: Standings | Fixtures |


 

The Highlanders beat the Blues 35-29 in an absorbing nine-try Super Rugby Aotearoa Round Eight clash at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.

The Highlanders’ win ends a three-game losing streak against the Blues as well as giving the Otago franchise a first home victory of the season.

Defeat sees the ill-disciplined Blues drop to third on the Super Rugby Aoteraoa log after another disappointing display.

With the Chiefs and Crusaders still to play, Leon MacDonald’s side could be as low as fourth in the table with two games to play.

Kazuki Himeno, Josh Ioane, Ngatungane Punivai, Jona Nareki, and Michael Collins all scored as the Highlanders kept their Super Rugby season alive with an impressive win under the lights and in front of the Zoo.

Ioane kicked a penalty and two conversions in a commanding display on his return to the starting line-up.

Jonathan Ruru, Rieko Ioane, Nepo Laulala, and Hoskins Sotutu scored for the visitors.

Alex Hodgman saw red with the game still in the balance. Collins scored straight afterward to wrap up the points.

Sotutu’s try at the death earned his side an important bonus-point though, while conversely, the score took away a winning bonus point for the hosts.

Highlanders edged a tight seesawing first stanza thanks to magical Aaron Smith

The Highlanders led 22-17 at halftime when a sublime Punivai try, in added time, put the hosts ahead after the hooter.

Smith led from the front and was instrumental in his team’s victory. The veteran halfback dominated the game and it could be argued that the Landers don’t win without him.

The first stanza saw the teams go toe-to-toe, the lead changing four times as the Dunedin side out-scored the Auckland men three tries to two.

Himeno and Ioane also crossed for Tony Brown’s men. Smith had a hand in all three tries as he increased the tempo, assisting the No 8 and right-wing’s scores, and setting up Ioane’s five-pointer.

Both the Japanese and Ioane’s tries came from quick-tap penalties as the Landers’ skipper eschewed the points, preferring to keep the Blues on the back foot.

The host led early on after Ruru intercepted Smith’s bullet pass, in the in-gaol area, to open the scoring in the sixth minute. It was the captain’s only mistake of the contest.

Otere Black converted, but Ioane soon had his side on the board with a 12th-minute penalty.

The home team begin to take control as the visitors begin to feel the pressure

Three minutes later, the 25-year-old playmaker converted Himeno’s try after Smith’s quick-tap penalty caught the Blues off guard.

The 32-year-old All Blacks scrumhalf made up for his mistake. He took a quick-tap penalty about 10 metres from the Blues’ try line, darted for the line, but was tackled short of the line.

The Landers stayed patient, waited for the reinforcements in the way of big No 8 Himeno, who collected Mitch Hunt’s pass and barged over the whitewash from close range.

It was the start of 15 unanswered points by the Highlanders, who struck 10 minutes later after Sotutu’s yellow card let the visitors short a man.

Super Rugby Aorearoa Round 8 Video Highlights: Highlanders vs Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Josh Ioane scored from an attacking scrum. Hunt, involved again, took Smith’s flat pass, drew in the defenders before playing the fullback – on the angle – was tackled short, but he reached out and put the ball on the line.

Ioane missed the conversion but his side had an eight-point lead.

Sotutu’s yellow card did not cost the visitors anything because they won the 10-minute period 7-5 thanks to Rieko Ioane’s converted try on 33 minutes.

Some good carrying by Akira Ioane and Karl Tu’inukuafe set up Black to put Rieko through a gap to score.

Black kicked a penalty to put the Blues back in front, but Punivai’s score wiped out the visitor’s good work.

The try came through superb work by Smith and Billy Harmon, who won the turnover after Sotutu got isolated at the back of the scrum.

Smith made the tackle, Harmon the steal before the ball was shifted wide to Nareki, alone on the sideline, to waltz over and score.

Punivai gathered Smith’s no-look, inside pass, and darted to the corner to score.

It was a wonderful lineout move by the Landers. Ash Dixon and Smith both bounced out, allowing Punivai to roll around and take the No 9’s pass at full steam, and ghost through the gap.

Good defending kept the second stanza scoreless before the floodgates opened

It took 18 minutes for the first points of the second half to be scored as both teams’ handling – and some solid last-ditch tackling – kept the scoreboard static.

On 58 minutes, following a lengthy period of Blues pressure inside the Highlanders’ 22, Nareki dotted down in the corner thanks to more good work by Smith.

Ioane missed the touchline conversion, but Brown’s men had a 14-point lead going into the last quarter.

Laulala crashed over with nine minutes remaining to make it a one-score lead despite Smith’s vain Captain’s Referral.

Hodgman’s deserved red card for dangerous play a couple of minutes later ended any chance of an away win.

The visitors lost a man, and lost the game when Collins supplied the dagger to seal the deal, he took Hunt’s delayed pass and crusaded through the white wall.

Sotutu crashed over before the siren to claim a vital losing bonus point for his side.

Final Score: Highlanders 35 (22) Blues 29 (17)

Scorers

Highlanders
Tries – Himeno, J. Ioane, Punivai, Nareki, Collins
Pen – J. Ioane, Hunt
Con – J. Ioane (2)
Drop –
Cards –

Blues
Tries – Ruru, R. Ioane, Laulala, Sotutu
Pen – Black
Con – Black (3)
Drop –
Cards – Sotutu (Yellow, 23′), Hodgman (Red, 72′)

Match Officials
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Ref 1: Paul Williams
Assistant Ref 2: James Doleman
TMO: Ben O’Keeffe

Teams

Highlanders

15 Josh Ioane, 14 Ngatungane Punivai, 13 Patelesio Tomkinson, 12 Scott Gregory, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Ayden Johnstone

Replacements:
16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ethan De Groot, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Michael Collins, 23 James Lentjes

Blues

15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson (captain), 5 Sam Darry, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Luteru Tolai, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe

Replacements:
16 Leni Apisai, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Bryce Heem

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