Planet Rugby

Blues shut down the Highlanders

29th March 2014 08:19

Share:

Three tries and an improved performance at the set-piece handed the Blues a physical 30-12 victory over the Highlanders at Eden Park.

Scrum issues for the Blues had been highlighted in the build-up as a weakness to be exploited by the Highlanders aggressive pack, but they more than held their own after a visit in the week from All Blacks scrum doctor Mike Cron.

Tries from George Moala, Ma'a Nonu and Charles Piutau, along with the fine kicking form of young number ten Simon Hickey, helped the Blues post an impressive advantage on the scoreboard.

Problems for the Highlanders in maintaining possession and warding off the threat of Luke Braid, Hayden Triggs and Jerome Kaino at the breakdown meant their attack just couldn't get going, solely relying on the boot of Liam Sopoaga for their points.

It was a deserved win for the Blues, whose pack worked tirelessly, but their start was a little fortuitous. Bryn Hall's clever kick deflected off Richard Buckman into grateful hands of Moala, who raced away into the far corner for the opening try.

Sopoaga continued his fine kicking form with a long-range strike to put the visitors on the board, before two further strikes had the Highlanders ahead for the first and last time.

His third penalty in particular, a shot from deep in the Blues' half on the angle, was a beauty from the 23-year-old.

Simon Hickey's goal-kicking was also on song as he landed his first penalty to restore the lead for the Blues to 10-9 - the Highlanders at times proving to be their own worst enemy.

Great breakdown work from Shane Christie won a crucial turnover deep in his own 22, only for Aaron Smith's clearance kick to fly into touch rather than into the Blues half for his wings to chase.

Instead the Blues scored their second try - Hall's burst taking him inches short of the try line, before Nonu did the hard yards to drive over against the team he played for in 2013.

Hickey's conversion was on target, as the Highlanders sweated over the fitness of Sopoaga following a nasty collision with Patrick Osborne. The fly-half recovered, with the Highlanders trailing 17-9 at half-time.

The Blues had come into the fixture with only a 66 percent success rate at the scrum, but their work in that area along with dominance at the breakdown was crucial in creating the platform to build a win.

Hickey and Sopoaga traded penalties after half-time as the Blues kept the Highlanders at arms length, the next score proving pivotal to the outcome of the match.

It fell the way of the Blues, Charles Piutau sliding his way over by getting past All Black colleague Ben Smith to go over in the corner for the hosts' third try.

With half an hour remaining it became a matter of whether the Blues could score the try bonus point, after Hickey's penalty had increased the lead to 30-12.

Hounded at the breakdown, the task of clawing back the 18-point deficit was always going to be too much of an ask for the Highlanders, who were denied a spectacular try for Buckman after a knock-on a few phases beforehand. It just wasn't their night.

The Blues might have won but there will be a lingering sense of frustration in their camp at having half an hour to secure the try bonus point, yet coming up short.

Nevertheless this was their most solid performance of the season to date, their third win of the season from six matches and revenge for losing in Round Two, as the Blues climb up the table.

The scorers:

For Blues:
Tries: Moala, Nonu, Piutau
Cons: Hickey 3
Pens: Hickey 3

For Highlanders:
Pens: Sopoaga 4

Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Jackson Willison, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 George Moala, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Tom McCartney, 1 Tony Woodcock
Replacements: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Tom Donnelly, 20 Peter Saili, 21 Sonatane Takulua, 22 Pita Ahki, 23 Benji Marshall

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Ged Robinson, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 TJ Ioane, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Shaun Treeby.

Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Friday , November 28
Bath vs HarlequinsBath vs Harlequins Preview
Saturday , November 29
Leicester Tigers vs WaspsLeicester Tigers vs Wasps Preview
Exeter vs SaracensExeter vs Saracens Preview
Sunday , November 30
London Irish vs GloucesterLondon Irish vs Gloucester Preview
London Welsh vs NorthamptonLondon Welsh vs Northampton Preview
Newcastle Falcons vs Sale SharksNewcastle Falcons vs Sale Sharks Preview
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
International Match
Saturday , November 29
Wales vs South AfricaWales vs South Africa Preview
England vs AustraliaEngland vs Australia Preview
More International Match fixtures
Guinness PRO12
Friday , November 28
Munster vs UlsterMunster vs Ulster Preview
Cardiff Blues vs TrevisoCardiff Blues vs Treviso Preview
Saturday , November 29
Zebre vs EdinburghZebre vs Edinburgh Preview
Leinster vs OspreysLeinster vs Ospreys Preview
Connacht vs ScarletsConnacht vs Scarlets Preview
Sunday , November 30
Glasgow Warriors vs DragonsGlasgow Warriors vs Dragons Preview
More Guinness PRO12 fixtures
European Rugby Challenge Cup
Thursday , December 4
La Rochelle vs Exeter19:45
More European Rugby Challenge Cup fixtures
Top 14
Saturday , November 29
Toulon vs Clermont AuvergneToulon vs Clermont Auvergne Preview
Oyonnax vs Bordeaux-Begles18:30
Lyon vs Montpellier18:30
La Rochelle vs Bayonne18:30
Castres vs Racing Metro Paris18:30
Toulouse vs Grenoble20:45
Sunday , November 30
Stade Francais vs Brive18:00
More Top 14 fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , November 23
Saracens 24 - 31 NorthamptonSaracens vs Northampton Report
London Welsh 5 - 26 Leicester TigersLondon Welsh vs Leicester Tigers Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Georgia 35 - 24 JapanGeorgia vs Japan Report
More International Match results
Guinness PRO12
Treviso 24 - 24 LeinsterTreviso vs Leinster Report
Edinburgh 28 - 13 Cardiff BluesEdinburgh vs Cardiff Blues Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , November 22
London Irish 23 - 33 BathLondon Irish vs Bath Report
Exeter 31 - 15 WaspsExeter vs Wasps Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Italy 6 - 22 South AfricaItaly vs South Africa Report
England 28 - 9 SamoaEngland vs Samoa Report
France 13 - 18 ArgentinaFrance vs Argentina Report
Wales 16 - 34 New ZealandWales vs New Zealand Report
Scotland 37 - 12 TongaScotland vs Tonga Report
Ireland 26 - 23 AustraliaIreland vs Australia Report
Romania 18 - 9 CanadaRomania vs Canada Report
More International Match results
Aviva Premiership
Friday , November 21
Harlequins 12 - 16 Sale SharksHarlequins vs Sale Sharks Report
Newcastle Falcons 20 - 10 GloucesterNewcastle Falcons vs Gloucester Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Fiji 20 - 14 USAFiji vs USA Report
More International Match results
Guinness PRO12
Dragons 12 - 38 MunsterDragons vs Munster Report
Ulster 25 - 16 OspreysUlster vs Ospreys Report
Connacht 43 - 3 ZebreConnacht vs Zebre Report
Scarlets 19 - 9 Glasgow WarriorsScarlets vs Glasgow Warriors Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , November 16
Leicester Tigers 21 - 21 SaracensLeicester Tigers vs Saracens Report
Wasps 71 - 7 London WelshWasps vs London Welsh Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Ireland 49 - 7 GeorgiaIreland vs Georgia Report
More International Match results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , November 15
Sale Sharks 36 - 8 London IrishSale Sharks vs London Irish Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Northampton830
2Exeter828
3Bath828
4Saracens825
5Leicester Tigers821