'Landers edge Blues in scrappy affair

Sat, 11 Mar 2017 05:31
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SUPER RUGBY REPORT: The Highlanders bagged their first win of the season after they beat the Blues 16-12 in a scrappy affair in Auckland on Saturday.

The Highlanders scored the only try of the match and extended the Blues' run of losses in the competitive New Zealand conference to seven. 

After being beaten by the Chiefs and Crusaders at home in the opening two rounds, the Highlanders beefed up their defence and polished their trade mark kick-and-chase game for the trip north. 

While the game was no champagned rugby, the improvement in the Highlanders was evident early as the Blues struggled to cope with the high-ball pressure and committed multiple errors which kept them on the defensive for the first 60 minutes. 

All Blacks centre George Moala mounted a fightback with a 30-metre solo effort that took the Blues deep into Highlanders territory where they pounded the Highlanders line for most of the final quarter.

But it was the handling problems which ultimately ruined their finishing burst when a forward drive on the stroke of full-time ended with the ball lost on the try line. 

As the Highlanders celebrated, captain Elliot Dixon noted the extra effort that that had gone into their preparation. 

"It was an awesome effort," he said. "We went to the drawing board and thought we needed to step up our game on defence. It was a good improvement for us, but it was a nail-biter." 

The Highlanders shocked the Blues with their pressure start and were up 10-0 with a Malakai Fekitoa try and a conversion and penalty by Lima Sopoaga before the Blues were able to get on the board with two Ihaia West penalties.

The second half was restricted to penalties with the Blues closing to one point at 12-13 before another Highlanders penalty eight minutes from time forced the Aucklanders to go searching for a try.

"We put ourselves in a position to win it," Blues skipper James Parsons said. 

"But it starts at the start of the game. We needed to set a platform to get the result and unfortunately we took about 20 minutes to do that and we were chasing the game from there on." 

The Highlanders next week head to Wellington to play the Hurricanes in a repeat of the 2015 Final while the Blues play the Crusaders in Christchurch.

Man of the match: There were a few contenders on the Highlanders side. Gareth Evans was a nuisance in the line-outs and did some good dirty work around the park. However, the award goes to Highlanders centre Rob Thompson for his sterling work in the midfield, especially on defence.

The scorers:

For Blues:
Pens: West 3, Francis

For Highlanders:
Try: Fekitoa
Con: Sopoaga
Pens: Sopoaga 2, Banks

Yellow card: Gareth Evans (Highlanders, 80 - cynical play, playing the ball on the ground)

Teams:

Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 George Moala, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Murphy Taramai, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Jimmy Tupou, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Piers Francis, 23 Melani Nanai.

Highlanders: 15 Richard Buckman, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Elliot Dixon (captain), 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Sekonia Pole, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Dillon Hunt, 22 Kayne Hammington, 22  Marty Banks.

Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)

AFP & @rugby365com

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FIXTURE GMT VENUE
Fri, 28 April 2017
Highlanders v Stormers 07h35 Dunedin
Cardiff Blues v Zebre 18h05 Cardiff
Edinburgh v Dragons 18h35 Myreside
Leinster v Glasgow Warriors 18h35 RDS Arena
Newcastle Falcons v Worcester Warriors 19h00 Kingston Park
Sat, 29 April 2017
Chiefs v Sunwolves 07h35 Hamilton
Reds v Waratahs 09h45 Suncorp Stadium
Force v Lions 11h55 Perth
Ospreys v Ulster 14h00 Liberty Stadium
Bath v Gloucester 14h00 Recreation Ground
Exeter Chiefs v Northampton Saints 14h00 Sandy Park
Saracens v Bristol 14h00 Allianz Park
Harlequins v Wasps 14h00 Twickenham Stoop
Leicester Tigers v Sale Sharks 14h00 Welford Road
Cheetahs v Crusaders 15h15 Bloemfontein
Treviso v Munster 17h05 Stadio Monigo
Kings v Rebels 17h30 Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium
Connacht v Scarlets 18h35 Sportsground
Jaguares v Sharks 19h40 Buenos Aires
Sun, 30 April 2017
Brumbies v Blues 06h05 Canberra
RESULT SCORE
Sun, 23 April 2017
Clermont Auvergne v Leinster 27 | 22
Sat, 22 April 2017
Sharks v Rebels 9 | 9
Bulls v Cheetahs 20 | 14
Munster v Saracens 10 | 26
Force v Chiefs 7 | 16
Crusaders v Stormers 57 | 24
Highlanders v Sunwolves 40 | 15
Fri, 21 April 2017
Lions v Jaguares 24 | 21
Waratahs v Kings 24 | 26
Hurricanes v Brumbies 56 | 21
Mon, 17 April 2017
UP-Tuks v Maties 28 | 21
Sun, 16 April 2017
Bristol v Wasps 21 | 36
Northampton Saints v Saracens 25 | 27
Sat, 15 April 2017
Connacht v Leinster 24 | 37
Treviso v Edinburgh 21 | 6
SUPER RUGBY
MORE LOGS
Pool AU
Team P W D L Pts
Brumbies 8 3 0 5 17
Reds 8 2 0 6 10
Force 7 2 0 5 9
Waratahs 8 2 0 6 9
Rebels 7 1 1 5 7
Pool NZ
Team P W D L Pts
Crusaders 8 8 0 0 36
Hurricanes 8 7 0 1 33
Chiefs 8 7 0 1 33
Highlanders 8 5 0 3 23
Blues 8 3 0 5 17
Pool SA1
Team P W D L Pts
Stormers 8 6 0 2 26
Bulls 8 3 0 5 14
Cheetahs 8 2 0 6 10
Sunwolves 8 1 0 7 5
Pool SA2
Team P W D L Pts
Lions 8 7 0 1 32
Sharks 8 5 1 2 24
Jaguares 8 4 0 4 20
Kings 8 2 0 6 10