VIDEO: Blues win Auckland thriller
SUPER RUGBY REPORT & HIGHLIGHTS: The Blues held on against a determined Highlanders team to win a trilling Eden Park encounter 33-26 on Friday.
The Blues outscored the Highlanders by four tries to two, but the boot of flyhalf Marty Banks kept the visitors in the hunt in a game in which the lead frequently changed hands.
Both teams linked arms in a minute’s silence and the Auckland stadium announcer’s voice cracked as they marked last Friday’s shootings at two mosques which left 50 people dead.
But the match ended in celebration for the Blues, who had gone 20 games without a win against New Zealand opposition since they beat the Highlanders 33-31 in February 2016.
“It’s awesome, it’s good for our confidence,” said flank Blake Gibson.
“Obviously we haven’t beaten a New Zealand team in a while and it’s good to get that monkey off our back.”
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Blues wing Rieko Ioane stepped round fellow All Black Waisake Naholo for a dazzling opening try before Luke Whitelock hit back for the Highlanders when he barrelled over from a scrum.
Fullback Melani Nanai’s break ensured a narrow 15-13 advantage for the home side at half-time when he set up Ioane for a second eye-catching score.
After the break, Highlanders wing Tevita Li snaffled a loose kick and raced down the left to briefly put the visitors ahead, before Nanai struck for the Blues to level the scores at 23-23.
But with six minutes to go, Patrick Tuipulotu barged through three defenders for the Blues’ fourth try, and Otere Black kicked a penalty as it finished 33-26.
For the Blues:
Tries: R Ioane 2, Nanai, Tuipulotu
Cons: Plummer, Black
Pens: Plummer 2, Black
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Whitelock, Li
Cons: Banks 2
Pens: Banks 4
Yellow card: Waisake Naholo (Highlanders, 67 – foul play, dangerous tackle)
AS IT HAPPENED: Blues v Highlanders
* Miss any of the action? Recap all the drama here!
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Tanielu Tele’a, 13 Thomas Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Otere Black, 23 Levi Aumua or Matt Duffie.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Patelesio Tomkinson, 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (co-captain), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Ray Niuia, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Richard Buckman.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: Nic Berry, Brendan Pickerill
TMO: Ben Skeen