Rieko Ioane scored two tries as the Blues edged the Highlanders 33-26 in Auckland on Friday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
At times, the Blues attack was a joy to watch. They troubled the Highlanders at the gainline, making several breaks in midfield. Ioane finished superbly to claim two of the Blues’ four tries.
— SuperSport (@SuperSportTV) March 22, 2019
In the end, they were made to fight for this result. The Highlanders hit back after trailing 15-13 at half-time. The visitors suffered a significant setback in the 68th minute when Waisake Naholo was sent to the sin bin, and never recovered.
The Blues were fortunate that poor goal-kicking didn’t cost them the victory. Highlanders No 10 Marty Banks finished with a six-from-six record, while his opposite number Harry Plummer missed three shots at goal. Those misses cost the Blues seven points.
The game was in the balance at half-time. The Blues would have extended that advantage in the 43rd minute if Tom Robinson’s try had been allowed. As it was, the TMO ruled that there had been a forward pass in the buildup.
Plummer managed to find his goal-kicking radar in the second stanza. Unfortunately for the Blues, who let themselves down with some poor discipline, Banks was unfailingly accurate at the other end of the park. Banks nudged the Highlanders into a 26-23 lead as the game moved into the final quarter.
Just as the Highlanders appeared to be gaining control, Naholo was shown a yellow card for a reckless tackle on Robinson. The visitors were forced to play 10 of the last 12 minutes with 14 men.
The Highlanders were eventually breached when Patrick Tuipulotu crashed over from close range in the 73rd minute. Otere Black stepped up to nail a penalty goal four minutes later and secure the win.
Blues – Tries: Rieko Ioane (2), Melani Nanai, Patrick Tuipulotu. Conversions: Harry Plummer, Otere Black. Penalties: Plummer (2), Black.
Highlanders – Tries: Luke Whitelock, Tevita Li. Conversions: Marty Banks (2). Penalty: Banks (4).
Blues – 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Tanielu Tele’a, 13 TJ 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.
Subs: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ofa Tuungafasi, 18 Karl Tu’inukuafe i, 19 Patrick Tuipulotu, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Otere Black, 23 Levi Aumua/Matt Duffie.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Patelesio Tomkinson, 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Luke Whitelock (cc), 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Pari-Pari Parkinson, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coleman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Subs: 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.
Photo: Fiona Goodall/Getty Images