Flanker Shannon Frizell scored a hat-trick of tries and created another as the Highlanders claimed a 34-16 victory over the Blues in Auckland on Friday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Once again, the Highlanders’ slow-poison approach proved highly effective as they kicked and defended with purpose, while clinically pouncing on any opportunities that arose on attack.
With Frizell stealing the headlines after producing a stunning individual performance, the Landers claimed a bonus-point victory that suddenly sees them draw level on 24 log points with the second-placed Crusaders in the New Zealand conference.
The Highlanders could not have scripted a better start to this clash as Dillon Hunt scored a charge-down try after just 39 seconds of play. Just moments later, the superb Frizell then powered over the tryline to send the visitors into a handy 12-0 lead.
However, the Highlanders’ enduring desire to enforce a characteristic kicking game and play without the ball allowed the Blues to slowly work their way back into the contest as they dominated the possession stats – having been asked to make a mere four tackles in the opening 18 minutes.
Briefly, for the Blues, scrumhalf Jonathan Ruru brought them back into the contest when he showed good strength to score in the ninth minute, before a couple of penalties by Bryn Gatland enabled the hosts to cut the deficit to just a solitary point at the quarter-hour mark.
Despite the Highlanders’ limited time with the ball in hand, they are a team that is lethal on the counter-attack, which was demonstrated once again when Frizell went over in the corner for his second try after some clinical build-up play.
Considering that the first-half stats showed that the Landers had enjoyed just 35% of possession, they would have been quite happy to hold a nine-point lead at the break after Lima Sopoaga slotted a penalty just before the break.
It could have been even more, but with the final play of the half, Hunt dropped the ball cold with the tryline at his mercy. That was quickly forgotten soon after the restart, though, when Kayne Hammington finished off a scintillating try after a beautiful run and offload from Frizell.
The athletic flanker continued on his merry way as he wrapped up his hat-trick and sent the Highlanders into an unassailable 34-11 lead heading into the final quarter.
The Blues would score a consolation try through Tumua Manu, but it could not detract from the second-half dominance of the Highlanders as they walked away with an important win.
Blues – Tries: Jonathan Ruru, Tumua Manu. Penalties: Bryn Gatland (2).
Highlanders – Tries: Dillon Hunt, Shannon Frizell (3), Kayne Hammington. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (3). Penalty: Sopoaga.
Blues – 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Jordan Hyland, 13 Orbyn Leger, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Akira Ioane, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Dalton Papalii, 5 Jimmy Tupou, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Mike Tamoaieta, 2 James Parsons, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ross Wright, 18 Mike Tamoaieta, 19 Ben Neenee, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Tumua Manu, 23 Matt Duffie.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Siate Tokolani, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Alex Ainley, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Matt Faddes.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images