The Blues kept their hopes of winning Super Rugby Aotearoa alive by claiming a bonus-point 32-21 victory against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Sunday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The win saw the Blues go back-to-back against their opponent for the first time since 2011, snapping their poor record in Dunedin which had seen them lose their last seven matches at the Forsyth Barr stadium.
The Blues have cut the gap between themselves and the log-leading Crusaders to just three points, although the Crusaders have a game in hand as the Blues head into a bye next weekend.
The Blues will be hoping that they Highlanders can do them a favour as they face the Crusaders next weekend, before a potentially title-deciding match between the Blues and Crusaders in Auckland in the 10th and final round of the competition.
Early tries from Akira Ioane and Christie saw the Blues take an early 12-0 lead, but the Highlanders were able to claw their way back thanks to some poor discipline from the visitors. A try from Ash Dixon along with a conversion and three penalties from Josh Ioane put the Highlanders ahead.
However, the Blues struck when it mattered as TJ Faiane and Ofa Tu’ungafasi scored before the break to see the visitors take a 24-16 lead into half-time, with Christie getting his brace shortly after the interval to put the visitors into the driving seat.
To their credit, the Highlanders kept fighting and forced a number of penalties out of the Blues until referee Mike Fraser was left with no choice but to show a yellow card to replacement prop Sione Mafileo. The Highlanders took advantage as Shannon Frizell forced his way over the line for a late try.
Highlanders – Tries: Ash Dixon, Shannon Frizell. Conversions: Josh Ioane. Penalties: Ioane (3)
Blues – Tries: Akira Ioane, Finlay Christie (2), TJ Faiane, Ofa Tu’ungafasi. Conversions: Beauden Barrett (2) Penalties: Barrett.
Highlanders – 15 Mitch Hunt, 14 Josh McKay, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Patelesio Tomkinson, 11 Scott Gregory, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7 Shannon Frizell, 6 Dillon Hunt, 5 Jack Whetton, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Jeff Thwaites, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Ayden Johnstone
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ethan de Groot, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20 Jesse Parete, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Jona Nareki.
Blues – 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Subs: 16 Luteru Tolai, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Josh Goodhue, 20 Tony Lamborn, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Otere Black, 23 Harry Plummer.
Photo: Getty Images