Super Rugby

Plumtree at the double as Blues beat Highlanders

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Blues beat Highlanders 32-20 in a scrappy but entertaining New Zealand Super Rugby Pacific derby at North Harbour Stadium, Auckland.

Taine Plumtree, in only his second Super Rugby match, bagged a seven-minute second-half brace as the Blues came back to beat the Highlanders.

Rieko Ioane and Stephen Perofeta also dotted down as the Blues outscored the Highlanders four tries to two.

The Blues fought back from a 10-point halftime deficit thanks to three tries and 22 unanswered points in 25 second-half minutes.


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A first-half penalty try and a late try from Shannon Frizell were not enough as the Otago team went home empty-handed.

Caleb Clarke had a try chalked off after the hooter as the bonus-point went begging for the Blues.

Perofeta, playing flyhalf instead of fullback after Beauden Barrett’s late withdrawal, had a good day out. The playmaker kicked a penalty and three conversions to go with his try for 14 points.

Mitch Hunt added two penalties and a conversion (eight points), but the flyhalf could not inspire Tony Brown’s team.

The Dunedin team has now lost five of their last six Super Rugby games against the Blues.

The Blues, however, also make it five from five in Auckland since 2018.

Perfect conditions for an imperfect contest

The match was played in perfect conditions, but the players made a hash of possession; instead, opting to go to the boot as they struggled to find any space.

The first half was littered with errors and lots of aimless kicking by both teams. Twenty-eight kicks (14 apiece) were recorded as both sides seemed unable to string any sustained attacking phases together.

The only try came from a penalty try following an attacking lineout and driving maul from the visitors.

Luke Romano was guilty of being offsides, not bound and bringing down the maul. It was a double blow for the hosts as the Romano went to the bin and the Highlanders went up by 10.

Hunt’s two penalties cancelled out a ninth-minute Perofeta goal before referee Ben O’Keeffe’s generous seven.

Blues strike soon after halftime as Leon MacDonald’s charges increased the pace and tempo to score two-quick-fire tries

The kicking continued, but this time, however, another mistake at the lineout by the Highlanders saw the Blues win possession and strike on the counter-attack, two minutes after the interval.

Plumtree went over into the corner after combining with captain Dalton Papalii, who sucked in the defenders to open the way to the line. Perofeta converted from the touchline to make it 10-13.

Things went from bad to worse when Plumtree scored in the same righthand corner after two questionable refereeing calls by Mr O’Keeffe.

The Blues decided to kick to the corner despite pointing to the posts, and the ref should have made Perofeta kick at goal.

Instead, the visitors won a turnover after Bryce Heem’s knock-on near the try line. Another aimless kick by Scott Gregory gave the Blues a chance to counter inside the Highlanders’ half.

And boy did they make the Otago side pay. Mark Telea fended off Manaaki Selby-Rickit’s tackle, sucked in Marty Banks, and sent Plumtree away for his second try of the game.

O’Keeffe’s advantage from Heem’s knock-on was non-existent, and Gregory had to kick under pressure from inside his in-goal area; Aaron Smith was livid.

To make matters worse, Perofeta slotted the touchline conversion. Zarn Sullivan banged over a 55-metre penalty minutes later to increase the Blues’ lead to 20-13 on 55 minutes.

Hoskins Sotutu’s turnover had kick-started the host’s third try.

Telea beat Hunt to gather Perofeta’s high ball and offloaded to Heem, who fended off a defender, accelerated away before passing inside to Ioane to score his 41st Super Rugby try.

The conversion was wide, but the lead was 12 with 14 to play.

The tries kept coming as the two teams searched for the elusive bonus point

Frizell barged through Papalii after Smith opted for the scrum instead of the lineout following a series of attacks that led to penalties in the red zone.

Hunt added the extras to make it a five-point ball game with five minutes remaining.

The Blues, however, were not yet finished, scoring soon after when Perofeta shot over from close range to seal the deal, the flyhalf capped a superb in the second half with that try.

A frenetic 10 minutes ensued after the hooter as both sides looked for the bonus-point try.

Clarke thought he had secured the bonus point when he intercepted Hunt’s stray pass, but the TMO review put paid to that.

The game would just not end. Both teams won successive penalties and instead of killing the game, looked for the score.

Finally, in the 90th minute, the ref called time on a strange game.

Final Score: Blues 32 (3) Highlanders 20 (13)

Scorers

Blues
Tries – Plumtree (2), R. Ioane, Perofeta
Pen – Perofeta, Z. Sullivan
Con – Perofeta (3)
Drop –
Cards – Romano (Yellow, 29′)

Highlanders
Tries – Penalty try, Frizell
Pen – Hunt (2)
Con – Hunt
Drop –
Cards –

Match Officials
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Ref 1: Paul Williams
Assistant Ref 2: Stu Curran
TMO: Shane McDermott

Teams

Blues

15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Bryce Heem, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii (captain), 6 Taine Plumtree, 5 Sam Darry, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Marcel Renata, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Alex Hodgman

Replacements: 16 Soane Vikena, 17 Ofa Tuungafasi, 18 Jordan Lay, 19 James Tucker, 20 Adrian Choat, 21 Taufa Funaki, 22 Tanielu Tele’a, 23 Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens

Highlanders

15 Connor Garden-Bachop, 14 Liam Coombes-Fabling, 13 Scott Gregory, 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Mosese Dawai, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith (captain), 8 Marino Miakele Tu’u, 7 Gareth Evans, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ethan De Groot

Replacements:
 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Bryn Evans, 20 Hugh Renton, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Ngatungane Punivai

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