Super Rugby: Highlanders resist Blues comeback to win eight-try thriller
By Ben Hampshire. Last Updated: 01/06/13 11:05am
Bottom of the table Highlanders ran in four first-half tries as they secured a 38-28 victory over the Blues in a thrilling encounter in Dunedin on Saturday.
The Highlanders looked to have the match sewn up when leading 29-7 at half-time, however their Auckland-based opponents launched a spirited fightback to register a losing bonus point.
The home side made a strong territorial start to the match, working through the phases before full-back Ben Smith slipped through to open the scoring in the ninth minute. Colin Slade successfully converted before adding three more points to the Highlanders' tally moments later when the Blues were penalised at the scrum.
It looked increasingly as if the fight had already been knocked out of the Blues when scrum-half Piri Weepu was stretchered off the field suffering from concussion while the Highlanders enjoyed 76 per cent of possession midway through the first period.
The Blues defence remained under relentless fire as the Highlanders continued to charge forward with Tamati Ellison powering through Rene Ranger's tackle to cross the line before Slade's conversion extended the lead to 17-0.
Less than ten minutes had elapsed when Smith was on hand once again to slide through a vulnerable Blues defence, leaving Highlanders fans wondering how their side are rooted at the foot of the Super Rugby standings.
The Highlanders secured a bonus point on the half hour mark when winger Hosea Gear broke through to touch down a fourth try. As Sir John Kirwan made his way to the dressing room to no doubt condemn his side's performance Waisake Naholo provided slight relief when he latched onto his own grubber kick to score the only Blues try of the half as they entered the break 29-7 down.
After a rousing team talk the Blues returned from the interval rejuvenated, although they drifted further behind when Slade added six points in two minutes from the kicking tee.
As the Blues made territorial advances Luke Braid found a hole in the Highlanders back line from the line-out before finding Ranger out wide who raced over the gain line as the visitors staged a second-half backlash. Kerr's second conversion of the match reduced the deficit to 21 as the Blues continued to exposed flaws in the Highlanders defence.
The tables were well and truly turned from the first period as Steven Luatua drove the Blues over the line once again to touch down before Kerr put the visitors within two tries of the Highlanders. With ten minutes left to play the gap was reopened as replacement kicker Hayden Parker slotted a three pointer for the Highlanders.
There was less than 30 seconds left to the siren when the Highlanders were reduced to 14 with Jamie Mackintosh sent to the sin bin for foul play and the Blues found some consolation in the personnel advantage. Refusing to give up the Blues continued passed the siren and were duly rewarded when Braid scored a bonus-point try for the visitors whose comeback landed ten short.
Following such a woeful start to the Super Rugby campaign a bonus-point victory is not enough to elevate the Highlanders off the bottom of the table while the Blues could lose their place in the play-off spots depending on Saturday's results.