Planet Rugby

Highlanders still searching

19th February 2010 06:22

Share:

Stanley fends off Cowan

Holding on: Benson Stanley fends off the attentions of Jimmy Cowan

The same old problem of finishing a winning position continues to dog the Highlanders, after they shipped two tries in five minutes to fall 19-15 to the Blues on Friday.

With the Highlanders leading 12-7 at the break and playing all of the rugby, a freakish try handed momentum back to the Blues but there was no disguising the way in which the hosts faded slowly from the game towards the end - excepting a frantic finale.

The Blues started more cohesively, focussing on some more simple aspects of their game, clearly in an attempt not to give away the penalties that crippled them last week against the Hurricanes.

The Highlanders started with more confidence, but that ebbed away as mistakes crept in, with a fair bit of over-elaboracy marking their play, never more apparent than when Jayden Hayward and Michael Hobbs ran into each other on the quarter-hour.

But the home team did settle into the game and the patterns once Israel Dagg had finished off a scorching try to cancel out Paul Williams' opener for the Blues, who fell into the same self-destructive pattern as last week and conceded far too many unnecessary penalties.

When Michael Hobbs ran in his third of the season shortly before the break, the flow of the game was pretty much all one way. Now would come the test of whether the Highlanders had got rid of last season's gremlins.

The game turned on a huge slice of luck for the Blues with a half-charge down of a kicked ball putting all the Blues onside. John Afoa took the ball and offloaded to Williams, then the full-back strode away from the dismayed chasers to plonk the ball under the posts and give his side back the lead. It took the Highlanders a long time to regain their poise, by which time the Blues had scored their third and Hobbs had missed a pair of sitters.

A frenetic opening which left you out of breath just watching it was punctuated by an excellent try from Williams, returning from a concussion suffered in the off-season. Rudi Wulf made the initial thrust into the Highlanders' 22, then Benson Stanley's long flat pass found Williams in space and he brushed off a poor tackle from James Paterson to finish in the corner. Stephen Brett converted.

Paterson made amends for his ineffective slide down Williams' legs just two minutes later, coming off his wing into the line and tearing through before finding Dagg on the overlap for the finish.

Despite Hobbs' conversion miss - he had an awful day with the boot, missing three out of four before Dagg took on kicking duties - the Highlanders' confidence visibly swelled with the score. Hobbs and Cowan used the boot to punishing measure and with all forms of Blues set piece under pressure, a second Highlanders score was inevitable.

It came from a Blues line-out fumble, seized upon by Donnelly and finished off by Hobbs who raced between ten and twelve for a simple score.

12-7 at the break and there was little in the early stages of the second half to suggest a turnaround, but then came that try.

Five minutes later, heavy Blues pressure on the Highlanders line was finished off by Rene Ranger out wide and Brett put the Blues seven clear.

Hobbs missed a sitter of a penalty after a break by Cowan, which did nothing for the home team's morale and although Dagg managed to land one on the hour mark, the tide had turned.

The Blues upped the pressure again and ought to have finished the game off with another series of rucks on the Highlanders' line, during one of which Josh Bekhuis gave away a penalty that also saw him sent to the bin.

Yet the Highlanders dug in and turned the ball over, setting up a nervy finale as caution was thrown to the wind. In the final play of the game the ball was swung wide to Fetu'u Vainikolo in space but he took his eye off the ball as it came to him and lost it forward. The comeback chance went with it.

Man of the match: Both Keven Mealamu and John Afoa had good games in the loose, but the set pieces struggled, so the award goes to Paul Williams, who rounded off a solid display at the back with two well-taken tries.

The scorers:

For the Blues:
Tries: Williams 2, Ranger
Cons: Brett 2

For the Highlanders:
Tries: Dagg, Hobbs
Con: Hobbs
Pen: Dagg

Highlanders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Jason Shoemark, 12 Jayden Hayward, 11 James Paterson, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Jimmy Cowan (c), 8 Steven Setephano, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Clint Newland, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Jason Macdonald, 17 Chris King, 18 Hayden Triggs, 19 John Hardie, 20 Sean Romans, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 Fetu'u Vainikolo.

Blues: 15 Paul Williams, 14 Rudi Wulf, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Serge Lilo, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Anthony Boric, 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Filo Paulo, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Rene Ranger.

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
International Match
Saturday , November 1
Barbarians vs Australia14:30
USA vs New Zealand20:50
More International Match fixtures
European Rugby Champions Cup
Sunday , October 26
Clermont Auvergne vs Sale SharksClermont Auvergne vs Sale Sharks Preview
Castres vs LeinsterCastres vs Leinster Preview
Wasps vs HarlequinsWasps vs Harlequins Preview
Benetton Treviso vs Racing Metro 92Benetton Treviso vs Racing Metro 92 Preview
More European Rugby Champions Cup fixtures
LV= Cup
Saturday , November 1
Sale Sharks vs Wasps14:00
Exeter vs Gloucester15:00
Bath vs London Welsh15:00
London Irish vs Leicester15:00
Northampton vs Newcastle16:00
More LV= Cup fixtures
Guinness PRO12
Friday , October 31
Leinster vs Edinburgh19:35
Ospreys vs Connacht19:35
Glasgow vs Benetton Treviso19:35
Saturday , November 1
Cardiff Blues vs Munster17:15
Scarlets vs Zebre18:00
Ulster vs Newport Gwent D'gons19:35
More Guinness PRO12 fixtures
Top 14
Saturday , November 1
Lyon vs Toulouse14:45
Racing Metro Paris vs Oyonnax18:30
La Rochelle vs Montpellier18:30
Brive vs Castres18:30
Stade Francais vs Bordeaux-Begles18:30
Bayonne vs Clermont Auvergne20:45
More Top 14 fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
European Rugby Champions Cup
Saturday , October 25
Ulster 13 - 23 ToulonUlster vs Toulon Report
Bath 19 - 21 ToulouseBath vs Toulouse Report
Montpellier 13 - 15 GlasgowMontpellier vs Glasgow Report
Northampton 34 - 6 OspreysNorthampton vs Ospreys Report
Scarlets 15 - 3 LeicesterScarlets vs Leicester Report
More European Rugby Champions Cup results
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Rovigo 18 - 33 Cardiff Blues
Oyonnax 15 - 25 Gloucester
Exeter 33 - 13 Connacht
Bucuresti 9 - 13 Stade Francais
More European Rugby Challenge Cup results
Currie Cup
Western Province 19 - 16 LionsWestern Province vs Lions Report
More Currie Cup results
ITM Cup
Taranaki 36 - 32 TasmanTaranaki vs Tasman Report
More ITM Cup results
European Rugby Champions Cup
Friday , October 24
Munster 14 - 3 SaracensMunster vs Saracens Report
More European Rugby Champions Cup results
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Grenoble 15 - 25 London Irish
La Rochelle 25 - 13 Bayonne
Newport Gwent D'gons 26 - 30 Newcastle
Brive 21 - 26 Zebre
Edinburgh 25 - 17 LOU Rugby
Thursday , October 23
London Welsh 20 - 52 Bordeaux-BeglesLondon Welsh vs Bordeaux-Begles Report
More European Rugby Challenge Cup results
European Rugby Champions Cup
Sunday , October 19
Ospreys 42 - 7 Benetton TrevisoOspreys vs Benetton Treviso Report
Toulouse 30 - 23 MontpellierToulouse vs Montpellier Report
Toulon 28 - 18 ScarletsToulon vs Scarlets Report
Leinster 25 - 20 WaspsLeinster vs Wasps Report
More European Rugby Champions Cup results
European Rugby Challenge Cup
London Irish 70 - 14 RovigoLondon Irish vs Rovigo Report
More European Rugby Challenge Cup results
International Match
Saturday , October 18
Australia 28 - 29 New ZealandAustralia vs New Zealand Report
More International Match results
European Rugby Champions Cup
Sale Sharks 26 - 27 MunsterSale Sharks vs Munster Report
More European Rugby Champions Cup results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Northampton625
2Saracens622
3Exeter620
4Bath620
5Wasps615