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Blues defeat the Highlanders in a thriller

Highlanders fight back from 12-point half-deficit but miss a key kick late on.

Caleb Clarke powers across for a key score.
Caleb Clarke powers across for a key score.
Image: Photosport/Brett Phibbs/INPHO

Blues 27-24 Highlanders

ANOTHER SUPERB GAME saw yet another dramatic finish as a resurgent Blues continued their good run in this Super Rugby Aotearoa season to defeat the Highlanders and secure their third win on the trot.

As a result, they stay top of the pile, two places ahead of the Highlanders, who showed considerable spirit to recover from a 12-point half-time deficit to briefly take the lead in the second period before a dramatic endgame saw the Blues prevail, Dalton Papali’i getting the game’s key score.

Regrets? The Highlanders will have a few. Aside from coughing up 22 first-half points, they also had chances to draw or even win this. Mitchell Hunt missed a 73rd minute penalty to tie the scores, and late on they turned down a kickable penalty to go instead for the corner in search of the win. They fell short.

Still, when they reflect on their performance, they’ll know some good came out of this trip to Eden Park. Josh Dickson showed well at the set-piece, while both Marino Mikaele-Tu’u and Hunt also delivered decent displays in their respective positions.

rieko-ioane-scores-a-try Rieko Ioane touches down for his try. Source: Photosport/Brett Phibbs/INPHO

But they were chasing from the start. Six minutes were on the clock when the Blues got the opening try, Caleb Clarke showing the speed and strength to get the better of Mikaele-Tu’u en route to the line.

But back came the Highlanders, who got the scores level within five minutes, Sam Gilbert making the initial break, Ash Dixon supplying the finish. Conversion added the scores were level at 7-7, before Otere Black and Hunt exchanged penalties.

Then came another Blues try – a mistake by Scott Gregory, the Highlanders full back, whose clearance kick was charged down by Hoskins Sotutu. In the subsequent race for the line, Dalton Papali’i got there first.

Then on 28 minutes, Clarke set up Rieko Ioane for a third try. 22-10.

Game over?

No, it was only starting.

The Highlanders fought back, Aaron Smith and Hunt combining, Hunt scoring, then converting on 45 minutes.

Eight minutes later the Highlanders had the lead. Shannon Frizell picked up from the base of the ruck and powered across the line. The Blues responded by getting their fourth try, Papali’i getting over the line from close-range. That set things up nicely for the explosive finish. The Blues held on.

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Garry Doyle

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