Blues beat Highlanders 30-12 in Super Rugby
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — All Blacks center Ma’a Nonu scored a critical try against his former team to lift the Blues to a 30-12 win over the Highlanders in round seven of Super Rugby on Saturday.
Nonu surged over the Highlanders’ line in the 36th minute, propelled by his New Zealand international teammate Steven Luatua after a clean break by scrumhalf Bryn Hall.
His try gave the Blues a 17-9 lead after a tight first half and allowed them to go on to post their third win in six games and avenge a 29-21 loss to the Highlanders earlier this season.
Nonu returned to the Blues lineup this year after spending last season with the Highlanders and looked sharp at the center of a backline that has both pace and power.
Flyhalf Simon Hickey also gave the Blues a boost by kicking six goals from six attempts — three conversions and three penalties for 15 points.
“I think the boys are starting to get used to the expectation of how hard games are, especially these local derbies,” Blues captain Luke Braid said. “You get to play everyone twice so we were really looking forward to a payback for when they beat us in the first round.”
The Highlanders did get a strong performance from Lima Sopoaga, who slotted four penalties from as many attempts to score the Dunedin-based team’s only points. Sopoaga also kicked 25 points in the Highlanders’ last match, a 35-31 win over the Hurricanes in round six.
But against the Blues, the Highlanders were held tryless, thanks in part to the hosts’ strong defense. The visitors also suffered from handling lapses, a poor kicking game and too many turnovers.
“I suppose we didn’t hold onto the ball at times, put ourselves under a bit of pressure and played at the wrong end of the field at times,” captain Ben Smith said.
The Blues jumped out to an early lead on center George Moala’s try, but the Highlanders came back on three penalties by Sopoaga to take a 9-7 lead midway through the first half.
Nonu’s try heading into halftime swung the momentum back to the Blues’ side, and fullback Charles Piutau then padded the lead with another try in the 50th minute.
For the first time this season, the Blues looked well-organized and commanding. Some of the credit for goes to Nonu and his former All Blacks teammate Jerome Kaino, who was part of a dominant loose-forward trio.
Blues 30 (George Moala, Ma’a Nonu, Charles Piutau tries; Simon Hickey 3 conversions, 3 penalties), Highlanders 12 (Lima Sopoaga 4 penalties). HT: 17-9.