Highlanders keep Blues at bay
Auckland - Winger Hosea Gear pressed his case for an All Black recall when he scored two tries for the Highlanders in a 27-20 win over the Blues in their Super Rugby clash on Saturday.
Gear has played only eight Tests for the All Blacks in a chequered four-year international career, despite being one of New Zealand's best and most consistent wingers. He was omitted from the first 35-man All Blacks squad of the season, reportedly because he was on the verge of signing a contract to play in Japan.
Gear has since rejected Japanese offers to enforce his All Blacks claims and his double on Saturday answered the selectors' other reported concern: that he doesn't score enough tries.
Gear's tries were scored in a seven-minute spell on either side of half-time which both clinched the Highlanders' win and secured a four-try bonus point which kept them in the tournament's playoff race.
Former All Black centre Tamati Ellison and flanker Adam Thomson also contributed tries in the Highlanders' win while the Blues made a late rally from 27-6 down with tries to props Tavita Mailau and Tony Woodcock.
"We wanted to play a bit of field position because it was a bit dewy out here tonight and the Blues are pretty dangerous," Highlanders captain Jamie Mackintosh said.
"We weren't working hard enough in the first half. They came out desperate, created a lot of opportunities and were playing really well. We were just lucky enough to score those tries just before and just after half-time and that made a big difference."
The Blues suffered their 11th loss in 13 matches this season to stay one place off the bottom on the table, despite producing one of their most energetic performances. They tried exceptionally hard and occasionally attacked well but their effort was let down, as it has been all year, by mistakes at crucial moments.
The home side began with three All Blacks on the bench - lock Ali Williams, scrumhalf Piri Weepu and centre Ma'a Nonu - and their performance picked up considerably when those players took the field in the second half. Williams made his 100th Super tournament appearance.
"We had a few young guys in there making their first starts and they played really well," Blues captain Luke Braid said. "A few of the big boys came on in the second half and really turned things on but we just fell short."
The Highlanders took charge of a match which had been even through the first 25 minutes by scoring the first try of the match through Ellison. The former Japan-based centre both began and ended the try-scoring movement, kicking from deep then following up after fullback Ben Smith had made an outstanding chase to pounce on the ball near the line.
Gear scored his first try in the 35th minute, taking an infield pass from winger Kurt Baker who had broken down the right-hand touchline. He scored his second try in the second minute of the second half and in similar circumstances after a damaging break by Smith.
Adam Thomson secured the Highlanders' bonus point with their fourth try in the 51st minute. The Blues then rallied strongly, helped by Nonu, Weepu and Williams and scored tries through Mailau and Wooodcock before time ran out.
Tries: Tevita Mailau, Tony Woodcock. Conversions: Gareth Anscombe, Lachie Munro. Penalties: Anscombe (2)
Tries: Tamati Ellison, Hosea Gear (2), Adam Thomson. Conversions: Chris Noakes (2). Penalty: Noakes
Referee: Glen Jackson (NZL)
15 Hadleigh Parkes, 14 David Raikuna, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Michael Hobbs, 11 Sherwin Stowers, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Peter Saili/Luke Braid (captain), 7 Luke Braid/Daniel Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock
Substitutes: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Daniel Braid/Peter Saili/Dany Pryor, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Ma'a Nonu, 22 Lachie Munro
15 Ben Smith, 14 Kurt Baker, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nick Crosswell, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Hoani MacDonald, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (captain)
Substitutes: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Josh Bekhuis, 19 Scott Fuglistaller, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Kenny Lynn