Blues exact revenge on Highlanders

29 Mar 2014
Blues exact revenge on Highlanders

Sparked by a dominant first half display the Blues ran in three unanswered tries to beat the Highlanders 30-12 at Eden Park on Saturday night.

Central to the improved start was Bryn Hall who wanted to make an impact in his first start and he achieved that with a snappy display at halfback with his quick penalty kicks gaining valuable ground in a tight first half. 

It would be difficult to imagine a more impressive starting display, especially after the emotion surrounding the disclosure of the stroke suffered by incumbent halfback Piri Weepu. Along the way he displayed the great strength New Zealand rugby enjoys in the halfback position.

Hall was all fire from the outset and conceded nothing to his All Blacks rival Aaron Smith who had the misfortune to be behind a pack that didn't give him the comfort that Hall enjoyed.

Hall also produced the play that produced the opening try, albeit fortuitously when his intended kick into the Highlanders 22m area rebounded off Highlander Richard Buckman and into the hands of wing George Moala who was onto the ball in a flash to beat the defence to score.

The Highlanders were called back for a forward pass after Sopoaga and Buckman combined down the right flank and when Buckman went close to scoring in the dying minutes, a check with the TMO revealed an earlier knock-on. It just wasn't the Highlanders' night.

Fullback Ben Smith most often presented the greatest danger from the Highlanders' line. Secure under all the high ball sent his way, he was sharp in his response when hitting the line hard and inevitably making ground. 
But it was Hall again who provided the spark for the second Blues try when running hard on the break and almost getting across the line himself but it was second five-eighths Ma'a Nonu who did get the ball with a hefty shove from No.8 Steven Luatua.

Maintaining the pressure despite an exchange of penalty goals early in the second half, the Blues forwards showed great patience in building play towards their third try.

Prop Charlie Faumuina, who had a fine game with the ball in hand all night, lock Liaki Moli and Luatua were all prominent in driving the ball ahead which created the chance for fullback Charles Piutau to turn on the gas in getting around Ben Smith's tackle attempt and then getting over the goal-line in Sopoaga's tackle.

But it was a night where the greater unity of the Blues pack was evident in the outcome. New lock Hayden Triggs also impressed with his contribution in the tighter exchanges and in the first half especially Jerome Kaino's strength was evident.

Among the backs, Hall and Simon Hickey combined effectively, and the latter's boot was on target again as he posted 15 points, giving him 71 for the season. All Black Ma'a Nonu's first start was evident with a strong performance while centre Jackson Willison built on his superb display of a week earlier.

Wing Patrick Osborne hunted all night for the visitors while flanker Shane Christie was competitive in the loose but overall the Highlanders found a vastly-improved opponent to that which they took down in their opening game of the season.