The Highlanders recorded their first victory over the Blues at Eden Park in a decade after hanging on for a crucial 27-20 win.
The Highlanders recorded their first victory over the Blues at Eden Park in a decade after hanging on for a crucial 27-20 Super Rugby win.
The southerners also managed to bag the all-important bonus point that gives their play-off hopes a major boost as they move into provisional sixth place on the overall standings on 44 points.
But the men in green were made to work overtime for only their second win in Auckland, as the hosts launched a fiery last-quarter fightback. Behind 27-6, Blues props Tevita Mailau and Tony Woodcock went over to give the home side a chance to level the match in the dying stages.
However, just like they did against the Bulls a week ago, the Highlanders managed to hang on for the win as the Blues slumped to their 11th defeat of the season.
The Blues hit the front first courtesy of a Gareth Anscombe penalty before opposite number Chris Noakes leveled the scores with a three-pointer of his own.
The visitors took the lead, which they never relenquished, when centre Tamati Ellison dotted down his own kick-ahead that began with hooker Andrew Hore snaring a turnover from the other end of the field.
The Blues conceded a second try in the 35th minute after Hosea Gear finished off a slick backline move, taking an infield pass from winger Kurt Baker who had broken down the right-hand touchline. Noakes duly converted from far out and the Highlanders went into the half-time sheds with a nine-point (6-15) buffer.
The Highlanders started the second half in the same fashion they ended the first, through another Gear try. This time it was Ben Smith who Gear had to thank after a damaging break by the full-back ended with the former All Black wing in the corner.
The Highlanders bagged their bonus-point try on the 60-minute mark when Blues hooker James Parsons' throw from a defensive line-out went straight to Adam Thomson, who found no one between him and the line.
The flank didn't need a second invitation and dived over for the softest of tries and the match looked to be wrapped up at that stage until a yellow card to Highlanders centre Phil Burleigh for a professional foul sparked a late Blues comeback.
Mailau first powered over when the Blues were a man up, and then Woodcock crossed the whitewash three minutes from time. But it was too little too late for the home side.
Tries: Mailau, Woodcock
Cons: Anscombe 2
Pens: Anscombe 2
Tries: Gear 2, Ellison, Thomson
Cons: Noakes 2
Blues: 15 Hadleigh Parkes, 14 David Raikuna, 13 Francis Saili, 12 Michael Hobbs, 11 Sherwin Stowers, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Peter Saili/Luke Braid (c), 7 Luke Braid/Daniel Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Daniel Braid/Peter Saili/Daniel Pryor, 20 Piri Weepu, 21 Ma'a Nonu, 22 Lachie Munro.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kurt Baker, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nick Crosswell, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Hoani MacDonald, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Josh Bekhuis, 19 Scott Fuglistaller, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Kenny Lynn.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)