Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy secured

Friday, February 25, 2005

Highlanders fullback Ben Blair has the first touch, but centre Anthony Tuitavake has much more than that: his bone-rattling hit on Blues No 14 Joe Rokocoko signalling the home side’s intent to shut down those speed machines from the north. Highlanders second-five Seilala Mapusua soon joins in. Plenty of early kicking follows as first-fives Carlos Spencer and Cameron McIntyre test the waters.

First points belong to Blues centre Luke McAlister with a penalty conversion from 35m out in front in the 5th minute: 3-0. McIntyre responds, finding a gap (but not giant No 8 Paul Miller steaming up on the outside), and the Highlanders settle for their own penalty. 3-3. Blair nearly has more points after a great chase sees him charge down his opposite Mils Muliaina minutes later.

Instead, with the penalty count growing against the visitors for fringing on the ground, Blair adds a second and the Highlanders take the lead for the first time. 20 minutes gone, and the talented McAlister continues his own show with his second penalty. 6-6.

Action time. Blues hooker Keven Mealamu almost bursts over from a lineout, but the Southern men rally on defence once more... or do they? Just as the threat seems to pass, Blues No 9 David Gibson sells a dummy and dances around the front of a lineout to run (who else?) workhorse Mealamu in for the try. McAlister converts and suddenly it's 13-6 in the 34th minute.

Blair's denied his third penalty by the right-hand upright on the halftime hooter.

Halftime score 13-6 to the Blues

Second 40. Clumsy play from Highlanders half Jimmy Cowan sees his counterpart Gibson bag a charge-down of his own and the try to boot. 18-6 Blues. McAlister's sideline conversion takes his team out to 20-6. Blair replies with his own sideline magic - his third penalty... before it's McAlister's turn back at the kicking tee.

23-9 with just over 10 minutes of the second period gone. But with Mapusua and Tuitavake running hard midfield the Highlanders surge. Again, referee Steve Walsh is forced to warn that big Blues pack about their constant infringing.

Hope for the scarfies on the terraces as McIntyre steps off both feet on the Blues 10m line - his ranging pass finding Cowan's replacement Danny Lee who (after two minutes on the field) dots down. 23-14.

But the hope is short-lived... Spencer sends the ball right-to-left from a lineout near halfway, and winger Rokocoko combines with fullback Muliaina to send over their Captain Xavier Rush for the Blues' third try. Keeping his perfect record intact, McAlister converts and it's 30-14 and that's how it stays.

Blues. Tries: Keven Mealamu, David Gibson, Xavier Rush. Conversions: Luke McAlister (3). Penalties: McAlister (3).
Highlanders. Tries: Danny Lee. Penalties: Ben Blair (3).

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