Highlanders upstage Blues
Hosea Gear and Jarrad Hoeata (Getty Images)
Dunedin - The Highlanders claimed their second victory of the Super Rugby season by upstaging the Blues 38-28 in Dunedin and in so doing, severely denting the Blues' chances of reaching the play-offs.
The Dunedin-based Highlanders had won only one of their 12 previous
matches this season before they sparked into life on Saturday, quickly speeding into the lead, never relinquishing it, thanks to four first
half tries by Ben Smith (2), Tamati Ellison and Hosea Gear to overwhelm the sixth-place Blues.
The Blues managed to claw back a try of their own on the half-time buzzer when Waisale Nahole powered over from close range.
Baden Kerr slotted the conversion to make the score 29 - 7 as the teams headed into the half-time break.
After the break Colin Slade quickly ensured that the scoreboard ticked over for the Highlanders by successfully converting two more penalty kicks before the Blues went onto the rampage in the final 25 minutes of the match.
First Rene Ranger dotted over to give the Blues a faint glimmer of hope and when Steven Luatua fought his way over after Anthony Boric burrowed in close from a quickly taken penalty by Jamison Gibson-Park, the Blues may have had a legitimate chance at snatching the match from the Highlanders' grasp.
However, Hayden Parker put an end to those hopes in the 75th minute as he converted a penalty from a tight angle to extend the Highlanders' lead and put the match beyond the Blues' reach, having to then score thrice within four minutes to win the match.
All was not lost though as the Blues claimed what might be a vital bonus point, after Luke Braid scored the Blues' fourth try well after the final hooter had sounded.
Kerr converted Braid's try, bringing an end to the match, taking the final score to 38-28.
Highlanders - Tries: Ben Smith (2), Tamati Ellison, Hosea Gear; Conversions: Colin Slade (3); Penalties: Slade (3), Hayden Parker.
Blues - Tries: Waisake Naholo, Rene Ranger, Steven Luatua, Luke Braid; Conversions: Baden Kerr (4).
Referee: Jonathon White (NZL)
15 Ben Smith, 14 Trent Renata, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Fumiaki Tanaka, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore (captain), 1 Jamie Mackintosh
Substitutes: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Elliot Dixon, 19 TJ Ioane, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Hayden Parker, 22 Ma'a Nonu
15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Jackson Willison, 11 Waisake Naholo, 10 Baden Kerr, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (captain), 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tim Perry
Substitutes: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Jamison Gibson-Park, 21 Marty McKenzie, 22 Jackson Willison