Blues pay dear price for win over Highlanders in Dunedin thriller
REPORT: The Blues did just enough to put the Highlanders away in a tight 32-25 Super Rugby Pacific victory in Dunedin.
The visitors outscored the hosts four tries to three, with the Blues looking the more dominant side in the first half after taking an 18-3 lead into the break.
The Highlanders fought back in the second half, though, scoring three tries of their own, but didn’t have enough about them to get over the line and pick up their first win of the season.
The victory came at a cost for the Blues, however, as All Blacks star Beauden Barrett left the field with a concussion midway through the match.
The Blues were slick early then held on late, Barrett’s replacement Stephen Perofeta’s counter-attacking try with 14 minutes remaining pushing them ahead 32-18.
The victory moves the Blues (three wins and a loss) above the Western Force to sixth – ahead of a Tuesday catch-up fixture against Moana Pasifika.
Barrett, 30, had only just returned following a concussion suffered in a Test against Ireland in November.
He was taken from the field in the 41st minute after a high-speed collision with hard-running Highlanders centre Fetuli Paea.
The Otago indoor stadium was typically raucous as more than 7500 enjoyed the return of crowds to New Zealand Super clashes.
Fullback Sam Gilbert scored twice for the Highlanders.
For the Highlanders
Tries: Gilbert 2, Lienert-Brown
Cons: Hunt 2
Pens: Hunt 2
For the Blues
Tries: Clarke, B Barrett, Sotutu, Perofeta
Cons: Barrett, Perofeta 2
Pens: Barrett 2
Highlanders: 15 Sam Gilbert, 14 Ngatungane Punivai, 13 Fetuli Paea, 12 Scott Gregory, 11 Mosese Dawai, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith (captain), 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Fabian Holland, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Vilimoni Koroi, 23 Hugh Renton.
Blues: 15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Bryce Heem, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii (captain), 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 James Tucker, 3 Marcel Renata, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Ofa Tuungafasi.
Replacements: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Jordan Lay, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Sam Darry, 20 Adrian Choat, 21 Taufa Funaki, 22 Corey Evans, 23 Stephen Perofeta.
Referee: Angus Mabey
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser, Mike Winter
TMO: Glenn Newman