Super Rugby
Blues turnaround not enough to stop Highlanders
ESPN Staff
April 18, 2015
Report Match details
Date/Time: Apr 18, 2015, 19:35 local, 07:35 GMT
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Highlanders 30 - 24 Blues
Half-time: 24 - 0
Tries: Fekitoa 2, Naholo
Cons: Sopoaga 3
Pens: Sopoaga 3
Tries: Mealamu 2, Moala, Tuipulotu
Cons: Bowden, West
Malakai Fekitoa of the Highlanders grounds the ball, and his face, for a try, Highlanders v Blues, Super Rugby, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, April 18, 2015
The Highlanders went all out in the opening half to earn a big lead
© Getty Images
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The Highlanders have held onto a six-point win despite a huge Blues fightback in the second half that saw the visitors claw their way back from a 24-nil deficit. Putting the visitors under the pump early, the Highlanders made easy work of the Blues defence showing great skill along the backline, but a huge turnaround from the Blues saw the Highlanders struggle to close out the win, with a penalty to the Highlanders after the siren securing the game.

Making it six wins from seven matches, the Highlanders continue on their path to the top of the New Zealand conference but almost came unstuck in the second half with the Blues turning on the heat and putting the pressure on the homeside. Keeping the Blues pointless in the opening half, the Highlanders were given the perfect opportunity to hammer the struggling side, but a lack of possession or territory saw the lead quickly chipped away as the Highlanders were put on the back foot and facing a battering attack.

Following a shambolic opening half where the Blues just couldn't take a trick, the ball started to land on their side as some crucial referee calls started to go their way, while a change of attacking mindset put them in a front position and allowed them to push the Highlanders to the final seconds of the match.

Highlanders 30-24 Blues (video available in Australia only)

The Blues, coming off their first win of the season over the Brumbies last week, scrabbled for possession and territory as the Highlanders ran in three tries and took a 24-0 lead into half-time. The Aucklanders lifted to win the second half 24-6, scoring four tries, including a brace for Keven Mealamu.

But Lima Sopoaga's accurate boot was the Highlanders' winning edge, and the fly-half added 15 points with three conversions and three penalties. Missed tackles cost the Blues dearly early on, and were compounded by handling errors and poor decisions when they managed to secure possession.

Explosive Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa collected two tries. The first was after just 10 minutes when he and winger Waisake Naholo combined down the right. Naholo featured again five minutes later, crashing over in the tackle for his own try to give the Highlanders a 17-0 lead after 18 minutes.

The home team wrapped up a dominant first half with a third try three minutes from the break. Half-back Aaron Smith set it up with a quick tap from a scrum penalty before Fekitoa's swerve and quick feet left the Blues defence flat-footed.

The Blues stormed back in the second half. Inside centre George Moala dotted down less than two minutes after the restart and lock Patrick Tuipulotu powered more than five minutes later. The Highlanders were reduced to 14 men as the hour mark approached, after lock Joe Wheeler was binned for a dangerous tackle on Blues skipper Jerome Kaino.

The Blues capitalised almost immediately. Replacement hooker Keven Mealamu slipped through for the first of his two tries, and the second came just three minutes from fulltime to secure a second consolation bonus point.

A late fightback from the Blues just wasn't enough © Getty Images
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