The Blues continued their good form by beating a spirited Highlanders team
The Highlanders travelled north to Eden Park to play the Blues in a tight game for round three. The Blues went into the game looking to go three from three and keep up their good form. The visitors were looking to build on their last-gasp win against Warren Gatland’s Chiefs following their bye week. In this fixture, the Blues just manage to edge the Highlanders at home.
A minute’s silence to remember Constable Matthew Hunt, a big Blues fan who died last week, preceded the kick-off. Caleb Clarke was visibly emotional during the silence. We eventually found out that his Grandfather had also died just hours before.
Straight from the kick-off, the Blues set out their gameplan. Kicking deep behind the inexperienced Highlanders back three through Beauden Barrett and Otere Black. This approach soon paid dividends as they pressured the Highlanders into giving away the ball from a weak clearance kick. From the lineout, some good hands from the forwards set up Caleb Clarke to dummy and power through the half-tackles to score. Black then converted and inside seven minutes the Blues were ahead.
Not long after, however, the Highlanders hit back through captain, Ash Dixon. His try and Mitch Hunt’s conversion put them back level with their opponents. Both teams then traded penalties as they made breaks but did not quite finish them off.
Things started to go downhill for the South Island side from here. Their young full-back, Scott Gregory, who was on his first start for the team, was unable to cope with the pressure from the Blues’ kickers. Barrett poked a grubber into coffin corner and Gregory collected the ball under pressure. The pressure must have got to him as he attempted to clear, and he got charged down by Hoskins Sotutu before Dalton Papalii pounced on the loose ball to score. With Black’s conversion the Blues were seven clear again.
The phenomenal Clarke then upped the standards even more, breaking from his own half and offloading to Rieko Ioane. All Ioane had to do was use his impressive speed for a clear 40 metre run to the line. Black missed for the first time in the game, yet, the Blues had put some distance between them and the Highlanders.
Gregory’s night then got even worse when he dropped a swirling kick from Barrett and got hit by Sotutu. Some phase play followed until the Highlanders had a couple of penalties kicked to touch but could not manage to close the gap before half-time.
Caleb Clarke 🏉▶️ Rieko Ioane… a combo that will give defenders nightmares for years to come! 👏
— Sky Sports Rugby Union (@SkySportsRugby) June 27, 2020
The Highlanders came out for the second half firing. Marino Mikaele Tu’u made an incisive break into the opposition 22 in an attempt to match Sotutu. His offload to the galloping Pari Pari Parkinson set up Mitch Hunt to dummy and go over untouched. The conversion by Hunt was good and they were back to within five points.
Some more good work by Tu’u at the breakdown gave his team territory. Jeff Thwaites then made a 20-metre break and, despite being tackled short, the ‘Landers managed to recycle and score out wide. Or so they thought. Hunt had knocked on at the base and got called back for an offside penalty against Ioane. Given the cynicism of the offence, Ioane was yellow carded.
With a one-man advantage, the Highlanders used some strong runners to push Shannon Frizell over from close range. Hunt’s conversion put them ahead for the first time of the night at 22-24. Another mistake by Gregory put his team on the back foot and they eventually conceded a penalty before Ioane even was back on the pitch,. The Blues then went for the lineout and Dalton Papalii bundled over for his second of the game.
Black’s missed conversion meant that the game was still in the balance and the Highlanders came close on more than one occasion. Hunt missed a penalty from 36 metres out that would have tied the game and then they failed to make a five-metre lineout count. Their failure to score meant that the Blues managed to edge the Highlanders and see out the game.
What next for the teams?
The Blues will now have a rest thanks to their bye week next week. When they return, they will travel to Christchurch in what could be a title-deciding fixture. As for the Highlanders, they will host the Crusaders in a difficult test for Aaron Mauger’s side.
We hope you enjoyed the article ‘Blues Edge Highlanders in Tight Contest’. What will it take to stop the Blues this season? Let us know!
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