The Blues broke both Highlanders hearts and Highlanders players as they got their season back on track with a full house win.
It was a tight match until a fourth try with ten minutes to go by Piri Weepu put the match beyond doubt. The Highlanders had a single point lead at half time (13 – 12), but Weepu scored twice in the second half to lead the Blues to a 29 – 18 win.
The match was in the balance most of the time, a single point separating the teams for longs periods, but the Blues finished well to take five points and break their run of three consecutive losses. The win puts the Highlanders at six matches without a win, bolting them to the bottom of the overall log.
The match was frustrating to watch with both teams wasting opportunities with countless handling errors and poor play overall. The teams both tried very hard to pick up the important win, but it became a sloppy sevens match at times, and puts both teams out of the race to effectively challenge for a spot in the playoffs. The Blues’ handling error count may have been lower than in previous weeks, but is still worryingly high.
What the Blues did prove in this match was that they have some patience, keeping ball in hand and building the phases resulting in two of their tries. They are still a long way from showing what their team filled with talent can achieve.
Each team was guilty of some foul play, with a yellow showed to each team each side of half time for dangerous tackles. The Highlanders lost Ma’a Nonu and the Blues scored twice in that time, capitalising fully on the extra man. Steve Walsh turned in another poor performance, seeming unsure of his calls and changing his mind based on what the players are telling him.
The Highlanders players fell like flies, particularly the backs, where loose forward Elliot had to play amongst the backs as they had no more backline replacements. That was part of the Highlanders melt-down late in the match.
The Highlanders next host the Brumbies, which will be a tough encounter where the bottom placed team is up against the top of the table Australians. The Blues face the Hurricanes in their third consecutive New Zealand derby.
By Richard Ferguson