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Blues break NZ franchise hoodoo

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Friday, March 22, 2019    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Again, it was a victory built on the excitement and skill of wing Rieko Ioane, who scored two first half tries, to keep his side pushing the Highlanders who were unable to create as many chances as the Blues created.

When the pressure went on in the final quarter it was the reinvigorated Blues who produced the consistency that allowed them to come from behind to claim the win. It was the third loss for the Highlanders in this year's campaign.

The loss of wing Waisake Naholo with 13 minutes remaining for a lifting tackle on Blues flanker Tom Robinson was crucial to the final outcome. Robinson had been an outstanding performer, having a try ruled out after another midfield play by No.8 Akira Ioane. The ball was moved but the pass to Robinson, who ran in to touch down, was ruled forward.

However, the introduction of All Blacks props Karl Tu'inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi brought stability to the pack and allowed pressure to be applied, building on the effort that had been obvious in the pack when lock Patrick Tui'pulotu was introduced in the first half.

That brought its reward with the best piece of sustained continuity play of the season as the forwards applied the pressure which resulted in Tuipulotu scoring in the 73rd minute to give the Blues a 30-26 lead.



It was then that Highlanders made a bad mistake when their restart went out on the full. The Blues took advantage to attack with multiple penalty advantages being applied before the referee stopped play and replacement first five-eighths Otere Black landed a 41m penalty goal to extend the lead to seven points.

Early on the Highlanders stationed first five-eighths Marty Banks at the front of the lineout with two forwards standing in the area of first receiver. The Blues appeared to spot that and after a clean lineout take they had Rieko Ioane steaming into the line to take the pass from halfback Jonathan Ruru.

His speed exposed the two forwards and saw him head into open space with only Naholo to beat. Ioane stepped out then back in to complete a superb reward after nine minutes.

The Highlanders responded in the 17th minute when from a scrum taken from a penalty they applied the pressure and pushed toward the line where No.8 Luke Whitelock secured the try to reclaim the lead for his side at 10-5.

Both teams had their chances, the Highlanders benefiting from fullback Ben Smith's typically electric running from the back with one break going close to breaking through only to be halted by solid, if scrambled, Blues defence.

But it was in the 33rd minute that a midfield turnover achieved by Akira Ioane saw the ball flung wide to fullback Melani Nanai. He broke into space and found centre TJ Faiane in support and he managed to slip the ball to Rieko Ioane who made sure of the try to get the home team back into a 15-10 lead.

After early penalty goals were exchanged in the early stages of the second half, it was the Highlanders who made the most of a kicking error by first five-eighths Harry Plummer. His tactical effort went across field and in the melee to secure th ball it was taken by wing Tevita Li who had an unchallenged run to the line.

However, the Blues struck back when Faiane broke through the backline to feed Nanai who was able to run in the equaliser 56 minutes into the game.

Scorers: Blues 33 (Rieko Ioane 2, Melani Nanai, Patrick Tuipulotu tries; Harry Plummer con, 2 pen; Otere Black con, pen) Highlanders 26 (Luke Whitelock, Tevita Li tries; Marty Banks 2 con, 3 pen). HT: 15-13