The Blues produced a spirited late fight back but it wasn’t enough to atone for a dismal first half as they sunk to a 38-28 defeat to the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday night.
It was one way traffic at Forsyth Barr Stadium in the first half as the Highlanders put a horror season behind them, racking up the four try bonus point after just half an hour as their exciting backs cut the lacklustre Blues to ribbons.†
Down 29-7 at the break and with the game all but gone, the Blues showed plenty of courage and commitment to claw their way back into the game, outscoring the home side by 21-10 in the second half, but it proved too much of a hill to climb as they suffered their third consecutive defeat.
It just wasn’t the Blues night. From botched restarts, missed tackles or dubious refereeing decisions, they just couldn’t buy a trick in the first half.
It was supposed to be a night to celebrate for the Blues – Keven Mealamu’s 150th Super Rugby match, reclaiming the Gordon Hunter Memorial trophy and reigniting their quest for a playoff berth.
Instead it became a nightmare. By the time Mealamu ran onto the field on the 46 minute mark to bring up his 150th game the damage had already been inflicted as the Highlanders built an unassailable lead.
The Blues rarely managed to find their way out of their own half, and when they eventually did they simply coughed it up and handed it back to the hosts on a silver platter.
The Highlanders had won just one game prior to tonight’s clash, but you wouldn’t have known it by the way they played with such confidence and conviction to bombard the Blues in the opening quarter.
After some concerted pressure fullback Ben Smith snuck through a gap to open the scoring, and matters were made worse when star All Black halfback Piri Weepu left the field after 14 minutes with concussion.
When play resumed first five-eighths Colin Slade added another three points with a penalty kick before Tamati Ellison got on the outside of Rene Ranger to crash over for the Highlanders’ second try.
Fullback Charles Piutau has been touted as a possible inclusion in the All Blacks squad named tomorrow, but it was his opposite number Ben Smith who shone the brightest tonight.
He was in sensational form for the Highlanders and scored the home side’s third try, before France-bound Hosea Gear collected the bonus point try as he sliced through some non existent defence after 32 minutes.
The Blues finally hit back on the stroke of halftime through wing Waisake Naholo who scored a superb individual try, but two Slade penalties in the second half, one a sterling effort from the halfway line, soon nullified it.
Sir John Kirwan’s men tried valiantly to fight their way back into the match in the second stanza and had some reward when Luke Braid ran a great line to burst through the Highlanders’ defence and offloaded to Rene Ranger for the try.
Frank Halai and Naholo then came close to scoring, before the hard-working Steven Luatua fought his way over the line on the 65 minute mark.
The Blues’ fight was no more present than in the final minute of the game, when Piutau showed fantastic skill to break out of his own half and race down field, before Luke Braid crashed over on fulltime to add some respectability to the scoreboard.