Highlanders beat Blues 29-21 in Super Rugby
DUNEDIN, New Zealand (AP) — The Highlanders capitalized on a blazing start to upset the Blues 29-21 — four tries to three — in Super Rugby on Saturday.
Scrumhalf Aaron Smith and center Malakai Fekitoa scored tries from Blues’ errors and flyhalf Lima Sopaga kicked two conversions and a penalty to give the Dunedin-based Highlanders a 17-0 lead after only 16 minutes.
Fullback Ben Smith added a try in the 39th minute to give the Highlanders a 24-0 lead at halftime and they needed every bit of that advantage to hold out the resurgent Blues in the second spell.
Former New Zealand rugby league captain Benji Marshall made his Super Rugby debut as a 58th-minute replacement and had a hand in one of the Blues’ three second half tries.
Blues flyhalf Chris Noakes missed a penalty in second half stoppage time which would have given the Blues a consolation bonus point for a loss by less than seven points.
The Highlanders were awarded a perfect start by the Blues’ error-ridden play in the first quarter. Though heavily favored and much stronger on paper than the home team, the Blues struggled to produce any fluency until they were forced to do so in the second half.
All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith scored in the ninth minute when he charged down a clearing kick from Noakes, gathered an awkward bounce, then beat Noakes’ despairing tackle in the right-hand corner.
Fekitoa then scored an outstanding individual try, pouncing on a ball which spilled from a Blues’ breakdown and dashing 55 meters to score through tattered cover defense.
Ben Smith handled twice in the movement that gave the Highlanders its third try and an overwhelming lead at halftime.
The Blues rallied strongly in the second half, taking more care with possession and scoring within two minutes of the restart through midfielder Francis Saili. But the Highlanders hit back immediately with a try to winger Patrick Osborne which was crucial in keeping a gap between the teams throughout the second half.
Angus Ta’avao and Patrick Tuipulotu scored tries for the Blues who closed to 29-21 after 69 minutes but they were unable to narrow the gap further as the Highlanders tackled themselves to a standstill.
“We stuck in there in the second half,” Highlanders captain Ben Smith said. “We gave up a few points in the second half and we just have to learn how to control ourselves better when we’re ahead.”
Highlanders 29 (Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Ben Smith, Patrick Osbone tries; Lima Sopoaga 3 conversions, penalty), Blues 21 (Francis Saili, Angus Ta’avao, Patrick Tuipulotu tries; Chris Noakes 3 conversions). HT: 24-0.