Blues hold off Highlanders for three-in-a-row

By Te Ao - Māori News

The Blues held off the Highlanders 27-24 in a thriller last night at Eden Park in a game Blues coach Leon MacDonald said had his heart racing.

“It’s good for the crowd but not good for your heart rate,” MacDonald said at the after-match press conference.

The Blues coach described the Super Rugby Aotearoa competition amongst the New Zealand teams as "nearly a level above" the wider super rugby competition.

“There’s just no soft games, there’s no chance to take a breath.”

“At one point you try to dive over the try line and the next one you’re defending a maul about 20 seconds later on your own line,” he said of the Blues back and forth with the Highlanders.

The Blues went into half-time 22-10 ahead, after tries to Caleb Clarke, Dalton Papali'i and Rieko Ioane, with Ash Dixon touching down for the Highlanders. 

Two quick tries after the break to Mitch Hunt and Shannon Frizell saw the Highlanders take the lead 24-22 for the first time with under 30 minutes to go.

After Dalton Papali'i got his second try for the Blues, the Highlanders had a chance to tie the scores at 27-27 with less than 10 minutes to go but missed a penalty attempt. The Highlanders got another chance in the final minutes through a rolling maul but the home side held on to take the win. 

Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger described the game as a "pretty even battle" and expressed pride in his team's ability to “stay in the fight”.

“I’m really proud of our guys’ ability to dig in and work for each other. As a coach, that’s all you really want.”

Mauger attributed his team's grit to being able to work for longer periods of intensity.

However, he said the Highlanders had a lesson to take away from the narrow loss.

“The learning there is to put the foot on the throat and drive it home.”

MacDonald says the All Black selectors will have to be pleased with what they are seeing in the Aotearoa competition. 

“You hope the All Black selectors are watching happily because they’re watching teams have to play smart in the weather conditions, manage games well”.

The Blues have won three-in-a-row now and have a bye next week before their showdown with the Crusaders in Christchurch on 11 July. 

"It's going to be a great battle up front," says MacDonald. "Going to Christchurch is a great challenge, they haven't lost there for a long time. So it doesn't take much motivation to get excited about it"

The Highlanders are at home to the Crusaders next week in Dunedin.

Meanwhile, this afternoon the Chiefs will square off with the Crusaders in Christchurch at 3.35pm to complete an entertaining round of maches.