Highlanders bounce back in style
SUPER RUGBY REPORT: The Highlanders got their season back on track with a hard-fought 24-12 win over the Blues on Saturday.
The result is the Highlanders’ first win since week two of the competition. For the Blues, the defeat follows last week’s loss to the Chiefs.
It was all the Blues for most of the first half when they led 5-0 before Shannon Frizell put the Highlanders on the board by diving over a ruck to score after a series of forward drives had proved fruitless.
From there the Highlanders took control and outplayed the Blues three tries to two, to lift themselves off the bottom of the New Zealand conference.
The Blues remain in third place, behind the Canterbury Crusaders and Wellington Hurricanes, but have not won an away match in New Zealand since round two of the 2013 season.
Highlanders’ skipper Ben Smith described the win as “awesome”.
“Our defence did a good job because they’ve got x-factor right across their team and we managed to work hard for each other and shut that down.”
Pre-match interest in the match had focused on rival flyhalves Josh Ioane and Otere Black now Damian McKenzie is out of World Cup reckoning.
But neither provided any obvious answers for the All Blacks selectors, although Ioane had a 100 percent kicking record with three out of three.
The one person who did shine in the opening stanza was veteran Blues centre Ma’a Nonu who blasted his way through the Highlanders’ defence to put Tom Robinson over for the opening try in the 22nd minute.
By that stage the Highlanders had been forced to make 67 tackles compared to 19 for the Blues.
But fortunes were reversed in the run up to half-time when momentum shifted to the Highlanders.
After being denied one try, when Blues wing Caleb Clarke won a three-way dive for the ball, they were eventually rewarded with Frizell’s dive over a ruck to score.
Ioane’s conversion put the Highlanders two points ahead and with signs their confidence was growing.
Their domination continued at the start of the second half and their scrum, which had struggled early on, was able to bully the Blues all-All Black front row to earn a penalty try.
Matt Faddes extended the lead to 21-5 with a runaway try from an intercept on half-way and Ioane extended the advantage with a penalty.
With time on the clock, the Blues had their best moment of the second half when Melani Nanai latched on to a cross kick to score
Man of the match: Highlanders Josh Ioane’s kicking from the tee was impressive, while Matt Faddes caused huge havoc in the Blues’ defence. Was extremely difficult to single out one player, however our nod goes to Shannon Frizell. The blindside flank overall performance was simply amazing. On attack he made 37 metres and 11 carries while on defence his tackle count went well into double figures.
Tries: Frizell, Penalty Try, Faddes
Cons: Ioane 2. Penalty try does not require conversion
Tries: Robinson, Nanai
As it happened: Highlanders v Blues
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Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Sio Tomkinson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Ayden Johnstone, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Luke Whitelock (co-captain), 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Thomas Umaga-Jensen.
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Caleb Clarke, 13 Thomas Faiane, 12 Ma’a Nonu, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Otere Black, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1. Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie.
Referee: Paul Williams (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)