Highlanders feast on Blues mistakes

Getty Images     27 May 2012     Getty Images

For the Highlanders there was the delight of a win, and a four try bonus point, to take from the game, but there was also satisfaction from only their second win on Eden Park since Super Rugby began in 1996.

But for the home team there was continued frustration from a season in which they have been unable to do anything right.

There was a spirited final quarter from the Blues but the Highlanders haven't won a reputation for their defence for nothing this year, and it proved good enough to ensure their points advantage was sufficient to hold out the Blues.

Fundamental errors in their own 22m area and the failure to secure their own lineout ball, as has been the case all season, through slipshod work cost the Blues. Typical of their problems was the opening try of the game scored after the Blues had been mounting an attack on the Highlanders' 22m.

But as Blues prop Tony Woodcock was attempting to clear the ball from the base of the ruck, his All Blacks team-mate hooker Andrew Hore disrupted the ball and it was cleared by lock Jarrad Hoeta. He quickly passed the ball out where centre Tamati Ellison hoofed it down field. It seemed certain that fullback Ben Smith, who was a constant menace, would score by winning the chase but Blues first five-eighths Gareth Anscombe raced across in cover to disrupt the ball.

However, as the ball popped out it was Ellison who reached over to touch the ball down for the try.

Anscombe added his second penalty goal of the game in the 32nd minute but almost from the re-start the Highlanders scored. The ball was moved wide for second five-eighths Phil Burleigh to drag in the defence and then slip the ball to wing Kurt Baker. He showed great speed down the sideline and then great presence of mind in the tackle to hold passing to the first line of support to throw off the defence before finding Hosea Gear in the second wave and he was untroubled to score.

Thirty seconds into the second half the Highlanders were at it again. Smith received kick ball, stepped through an attempt at defence and raced down the left touchline at speed and when blocked flung the ball inside where Gear was waiting to score his second try.

After nearly a quarter without further addition, there was a hint of more solidity from the Blues and they had a try disallowed for a forward pass, but almost immediately a clever grubber kick by Burleigh found touch in the corner. Then inexplicably, and against all the basic tenets of rugby, hooker James Parsons threw a long ball to the lineout.

Waiting for it, almost unbelievingly, was flanker Adam Thomson and he dropped over the line for one of the easier tries he would ever score. Chris Noakes added the conversion to take the Highlanders to a 27-6 lead.

Blues coach Pat Lam wanted some freshness and enthusiasm from the side he named and his choice of centre Francis Saili did provide that and was one of the more positive performers in his side with his explosiveness off the mark. Flanker Steven Luatua was another and he got dibs in to replace Jerome Kaino in the side next side.

The infusion of some of the older hands midway through the second half ignited the Blues with some more determined play and leading the way was second five-eighths Ma'a Nonu who appeared to unleash a lot of frustration from the disappointments of the season. He featured twice in the 67th minute drive which resulted in a try for prop Tevita Mailau.

Woodcock got over in the corner in the 76th minute after another sustained build-up and it was left to replacement back Lachie Munro to ensure the Blues of a bonus point for their seven point margin at the end. A point they kept when replacement first five-eighths Mike Delany kicked a last second penalty to touch instead of goal.


Blues 20 (Tevita Mailau, Tony Woodcock tries; Gareth Anscombe con, 2 pen; Lachie Munro con) Highlanders 27 (Tamati Ellison, Hosea Gear 2, Adam Thomson tries; Chris Noakes 2 con, pen ). HT: 6-15