Super Rugby Preview: Highlanders v Blues

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Thursday, April 18, 2019    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Match Details: Highlanders v Blues, Forsyth Barr Stadium, 7.35pm, April 20, 2019

Played: 32
Won: Highlanders 15, Blues 17
Last time: Highlanders 26-33 Blues, Eden Park, March 22, 2019
Referee: Paul Williams


Since winning their opening two games against the Chiefs 30-27a and the Reds 36-31, the Highlanders have been winless. They lost to the Rebels 19-24a, the Hurricanes 22-25a, had a draw from their abandoned game against the Crusaders, and three more losses to the Blues 26-33a, the Hurricanes 29-31 and the Crusaders 17-43a. The Blues lost their first three games, against the Crusaders 22-24, the Sharks 7-26a and the Jaguares 19-23a. They returned to beat the Sunwolves 28-20, the Highlanders 33-26, the Stormers 24-9 and the Waratahs 32-29, all at home, before losing to the Chiefs 29-33a.


Statistically, prospects for the Highlanders don't stack up well in this contest, however, given their outstanding goal-kicking success where they are second best in the competition with an 88 percent success rate, they could look to keep the pressure on the Blues who have the third worst record of penalties conceded per game of 8.3 while the Highlanders have conceded only 6.5 giving them the best record in the competition. Boosting their prospects also will be the return of halfback Aaron Smith and No.8 Luke Whitelock, albeit off the bench for both.
Coach Aaron Mauger said: "Nuggy [Smith] and Luke have both worked incredibly hard to make themselves available and their return this week provides the team with a bit of a boost. We are aware of the challenges the Blues will bring on Saturday, all the New Zealand conference games bring a high degree of intensity."


Apart from the desire to regain some winning momentum after last weekend's loss to the Chiefs, the Blues will be looking to get another of the monkeys from their back when attempting to achieve their first win at Dunedin since 2011. It was so long ago it was achieved at Carisbrook. And there's the small issue of the Gordon Hunter Memorial Cup which they have also not had in their trophy cabinet for some time. Coach Leon MacDonald said: "We've yet to come out on the right side of the ledger at Forsyth Barr Stadium although it will provide us with the type of surface we will enjoy. And the team will also want to produce an effort of quality to lift the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy." Some key statistics favour the Blues: Carries (first in the competition), metres made (third), clean breaks (fourth), defenders beaten (third), offloads (fourth), passes (first) and fewest missed tackles (3rd).


In a quirky statistical fact, the Highlanders have gone three games achieving a 100 percent record in goal-kicking. They have landed 13 shots from 13 at goal. The only other time they have achieved that was in 2014.


Wing Rieko Ioane scored two tries against the Highlanders when they met earlier in the year in Auckland and he has made 18 clean breaks, more than any other player in the competition to date.


Highlanders: 1.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2.Liam Coltman, 3.Tyrel Lomax, 4.Jackson Hemopo, 5.Tom Franklin, 6.Shannon Frizell, 7.James Lentjes, 8.Elliot Dixon, 9.Kayne Hammington, 10.Josh Ioane, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Teihorangi Walden, 13.Patelesio Tomkinson, 14.Matt Faddes, 15.Ben Smith (C).

Substitutes: 16.Ash Dixon 17.Ayden Johnstone 18.Siate Tokolahi 19.Josh Dickson 20.Luke Whitelock, 21.Aaron Smith, 22.Bryn Gatland 23. Thomas Umaga-Jensen.

Blues: 1.Karl Tu'inukukafe, 2.James Parsons, 3.Ofa Tuungafasi, 4.Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 5.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 6.Tom Robinson, 7.Dalton Papalii, 8.Akira Ioane, 9.Jonathan Ruru, 10.Otere Black, 11.Rieko Ioane, 12.Ma'a Nonu, 13.TJ Faiane, 14.Caleb Clarke, 15.Melani Nanai.

Substitutes: 16.Matt Moulds, 17.Alex Hodgman, 18.Sione Mafileo, 19.Josh Goodhue, 20.Jed Brown, 21.Sam Nock, 22.Harry Plummer, 23.Matt Duffie.