Two undefeated teams clashed at Eden Park in the third round of the Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa series. A brilliant display of running rugby from two outstanding sides! The Blues were able to hang on in a nail-biter. You won't see many better matches than that with the Blues taking the points in a thriller by 27-24 over the Highlanders.
The first quarter was a spectacle of what rugby is supposed to be. Both teams attacked whenever possible with the defence of again both sides almost impenetrable. The Blues lead 10-7 at the end of the first quarter with both sides very much still in the game.
The second quarter again an action-packed affair, however, the Blues started to take control of the game. A mistake by Scott Gregory resulted in the second try for the Blues which was soon followed by a third try that gave the Blues a 22-10 lead which was also the score at halftime.
The dominance of the Blues is visible if you look at some of the stats at the break. The Blues carried the ball 275m to the 84m of the Highlanders. The Highlanders conceded 7 turnovers to the 3 of the Blues while the Blues who won 41 rucks to the 23 of the Highlanders. A better half of rugby you will struggle to find than what the opening forty minutes at Eden Park!
The Highlander narrowed the gap to 22-17 after some individual brilliance by their flyhalf Mitch Hunt. A dominant Highlanders side scored their second try in the third quarter to take the lead with 24-22. The Blues immediately struck back with a forward try to wrestle back the lead just before the end of the third quarter (27-24), after a quarter in which not much has gone right for them.
The fourth and final quarter was an arm wrestle-between two heavyweights with no points scored. The Blues a somewhat lucky winner as the Highlanders dominated most of the play in the last 20 minutes. The Highlanders will definately kick themselves for not using the point-scoring opportunities after several penalties due to the Blues ill-discipline.
Both teams adapting to the "new" interpretations of the laws with only 17 penalties conceded. As expected, due to the wet conditions both sides used kicks to attack with the Blues' efficiency in this area maybe the reason for the 3 points difference in the final score.
The Blues will enjoy a bye next weekend while the Highlanders will host a dangerous Crusaders.
Highlanders: Tries: Ash Dickson, Mitch Hunt, Ngane Punivai, Shannon Frizell. Conversions: Mitch Hunt (2).
Blues: Tries: Caleb Clarke, Dalton Papali'i (2), Ricko Ioane. Conversions: Otere Black (2). Penalty: Otere Black.
Blues: 15. Beauden Barrett, 14. Mark Telea, 13. Rieko Ioane, 12. TJ Faiane, 11. Caleb Clarke, 10. Otere Black, 9. Sam Nock, 8. Hoskins Sotutu, 7. Dalton Papalii, 6. Akira Ioane, 5. Josh Goodhue, 4. Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3. Ofa Tuungafasi, 2. James Parsons, 1. Alex Hodgman. Reserves: 16. Kurt Eklund, 17. Marcel Renata, 18. Sione Mafileo, 19. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20. Tony Lamborn, 21. Finlay Christie, 22. Harry Plummer, 23. Joe Marchant.
Highlanders: 15. Scott Gregory, 14. Sam Gilbert, 13. Rob Thompson, 12. Sio Tomkinson, 11. Jona Nareki, 10. Mitch Hunt, 9. Aaron Smith, 8. Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7. Dillon Hunt, 6. Shannon Frizell, 5. Josh Dickson, 4. Pari Pari Parkinson, 3. Siate Tokolahi, 2. Ash Dixon (c), 1. Ayden Johnstone. Replacements: 16. Liam Coltman, 17. Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18. Jeff Thwaites, 19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 20. Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 21. Kayne Hammington, 22. Bryn Gatland, 23. Ngane Punivai.