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Highlanders' Super Rugby misery continues

FRIDAY WRAP: The Blues have continued their unbeaten start to 2024 and stretched the Highlanders’ misery against their Kiwi rivals with a 37-29 victory to open Super Round in Melbourne.

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The Aucklanders emerged as victors with hard-running No. 8 Hoskins Sotutu scoring a hat-trick on Friday.

While both teams were round-one winners, the Highlanders haven’t beaten another New Zealand team since 2021, losing their past 17 games.

The Blues delivered a crushing blow right on halftime when Stephen Perofeta shocked the opposition by deciding to run the ball from the in-goal rather than boot it dead for referee Angus Gardner to call time.

He made it to halfway before offloading to wing Mark Telea, with the Highlanders’ scrambling defence eventually incurring a penalty, and rookie fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens given a yellow card.

With the Blues forwards laying the platform, Telea dived over the defence, with his team taking a 22-15 lead to the sheds rather than the game being all square at 15-15.

A telling statistic was the tackle count in the first half, with the Highlanders crushing the Blues 146-40.

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While they didn’t get a lot of payoff for their dominance in possession, All Blacks’ Sotutu made an early statement three minutes into the second half with his second try, coming off a pick-and-go.

After a 53rd-minute penalty by Perofeta the score was out to 32-15, but to the Highlanders’ credit they kept coming.

Busy scrumhalf Folau Fakatava, who was among the Highlanders’ best, was replaced as coach Clarke Dermody emptied his bench.

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They were rewarded with a try by wing Timoci Tavatavanawai.

However, their hopes were snuffed out when Sotutu barrelled across the try-line for his third of the night.

The Highlanders at least finished the match on a high, scoring after fulltime through debutant Ajay Faleafaga off a Rhys Patchell grubber to take some confidence into their round-three clash with the Waratahs.

*Filipo Daugunu scored a double and Andrew Kellaway made an early case to wear the Wallabies fullback jersey with a starring role in Melbourne’s rousing 48-34 Super Rugby Pacific victory over the Force.

Both teams entered Super Round after first-round losses, with the cash-strapped Rebels also playing for their future off the field.

Melbourne roared home, scoring four tries in the second half to post a morale-boosting win, with star recruit prop Taniela Tupou a big contributor.

The Rebels’ line-out was again problematic, losing four in the first half, but their forwards otherwise aimed up after criticism following their first-round performance.

With new Wallabies coach Joe Schmidt watching from the stands, the home side trailed 19-24 at halftime but could have been further behind if not for Kellaway’s efforts.

He was first on the scoreboard in the eighth minute with a scything run from inside their own half, then closed the margin with his second try seven minutes after the halftime siren.

Kellaway combined with halves James Tuttle and Carter Gordon on the short side off of a dominant scrum to dot down.

The Force answered early in the second half, with a Ben Donaldson penalty and then a try by Force’s Michael Wells in the 49th minute pushing their lead out to 34-19.

But from there it was all the Rebels, scoring 29 unanswered points.

The substitutes, led by scrumhalf Ryan Louwrens, fired up the troops and Josh Kemeny and Gordon both scored – the latter taking an intercept from a Donaldson pass.

Former Reds wing Filipo Daugunu also demonstrated his athleticism to score twice to keep the Force at bay.

All Friday’s scores and scorers:

Highlanders 29-37 Blues

For Highlanders:
Tries: Withy, Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Patchell, Tavatavanawai, Faleafaga
Cons: Gilbert, Faleafaga

For Blues:
Tries: Sotutu 3, Funaki, Tele’a
Cons: Perofeta 3
Pens: Perofeta 2

Teams:

Highlanders: 15 Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, 14 Timoci Tavatavanawai, 13 Tanielu Tele’a, 12 Sam Gilbert, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Rhys Patchell, 9 Folau Fakatava, 8 Hugh Renton, 7 Billy Harmon (captain), 6 Sean Withy, 5 Max Hicks, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Henry Bell, 1 Ethan de Groot
Replacements: 16 Ricky Jackson, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 1 Saula Ma’u, 19 Fabian Holland, 20 Nikora Broughton, 21 Nathan Hastie, 22 Ajay Faleafaga, 23 Jonah Lowe

Blues: 15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 Mark Tele’a, 13 AJ Lam, 12 Bryce Heem, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Taufa Funaki, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papali’i (captain), 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Sam Darry, 4 Laghlan McWhannell, 3 Marcel Renata, 2, Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi
Replacements: 16 Soane Vikena, 17 Joshua Fusitu’a, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Josh Beehre, 20 Adrian Choat, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Cole Forbes

Referee: Angus Gardner
ARs: Damon Murphy, Marcus Playle
TMO: Richard Kelly

Rebels 48-34 Force

For Rebels:
Tries: Kellaway 2, Gordon 2, Kemeny, Daugunu 2
Cons: Gordon 2, Strachan 2, Louwrens
Pen: Strachan

For Force:
Tries: Tiatia, Horton, Burey, Wells
Cons: Donaldson 4
Pens: Donaldson 2

Melbourne Rebels: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Lachie Anderson, 13 Matt Proctor, 12 David Feliuai, 11 Filipo Daugunu, 10 Carter Gordon, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Rob Leota (captain), 7 Brad Wilkin, 6 Josh Kemeny, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Josh Canham, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Alex Mafi, 1 Matt Gibbon
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Isaac Kailea, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Tuaina Taii Tualima, 20 Vaiolini Ekuasi, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Jake Strachan, 23 Nick Jooste

Western Force: 15 Max Burey, 14 Harry Potter, 13 Sam Spink, 12 Hamish Stewart, 11 Chase Tiatia, 10 Ben Donaldson, 9 Nic White, 8 Will Harris, 7 Carlo Tizzano, 6 Michael Wells, 5 Thomas Franklin, 4 Jeremy Williams, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Tom Horton, 1 Ryan Coxon
Replacements: 16 Feleti Kaitu’u, 17 Charlie Hancock, 18 Tiaan Tauakipulu, 19 Tim Anstee, 20 Lopeti Faifua, 21 Ollie Callan, 22 Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, 23 George Poolman

Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill, James Doleman

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