Second half blitz gives Blues win

Photosport     03 Mar 2007     Photosport

Three tries, two of them to centre Isaia Toeava, broke spirited Highlanders defence which had seen the visitors lead 6-3 at halftime, and which recovered sufficiently in the last moments to deny the Blues a bonus point.

Wave after wave of Blues attacks were held out in a sterling first half.

Conditions were perfect and a good-sized crowd saw returning Highlanders first five-eighths Nick Evans land two penalty goals in the first seven minutes, to which Blues second five-eighths Luke McAlister replied 11 minutes into the half to make the half-time score 6-3 to the Highlanders.

Twice the defence denied the Blues tries when wing Rudi Wulf was pushed out in the corner while Toeava had the ball held up over the line by Highlanders' halfback Jimmy Cowan.

The Highlanders enjoyed an advantage in the first half lineouts and while it didn't result in a platform for much in the way of attacking play, it minimised the Blues attacking chances in the first half. Locks Hoani MacDonald and James Ryan were well supported by flanker Josh Blackie, who offered some valuable variation.

It was 30 minutes before the Blues got a lineout throw of their own.

Toeava looked the most likely line-breaker for the Blues with some punishing runs while Blues captain Troy Flavell was outstanding leading the forward drives with powerful contributions at vital stages.

First five-eighths Isa Nacewa was again the distributor and after guiding the side through the tight first three-quarters of the game, he revelled as the Blues took control.

It took a reliance on more driving forward play, with Flavell prominent, to finally crack the defence, almost immediately after half-time. Two driving mauls tied in the Highlanders defenders and when the ball was cleared Toeava ran onto the ball at high speed to be unchallenged in touching down.

However, Evans was able to regain the lead for the Highlanders after the Blues got off-side after a high kick by Craig Clare's replacement, James Wilson, with his third penalty goal. Clare suffered a compound fracture of his tibia.

McAlister landed a 51st minute penalty goal from over 50m out to put the Blues back in front and contributed a third in the 59th minute.

With more forward pressure, after No.8 Jerome Kaino forced Wilson to try and clear from behind goal, only to have the ball rebound off the posts. The backline move saw Toeava open up the defence and while slipping, Toeava was able to get up and ground the ball.

Wilson had another kick charged down after a clever reverse pass to hooker Derren Witcombe saw him kick ahead, and Wulf got up for the charge down but the Blues couldn't secure the chance.

Scorers: Blues 28 (Isaia Toeava 2, Troy Flavell tries; Luke McAlister 2 con, 3 pen) Highlanders 9 (N Evans 3 pen). HT: 3-6