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Blues and Highlanders finish pre-season undefeated

By Ned Lester
Tanielu Tele'a in action for the Highlanders. Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images

The Blues and Highlanders both claimed wins on Friday to round out their respective pre-season campaigns unbeaten.

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The Blues’ win over the Chiefs comes after two big victories away in Japan, having beaten Tokyo Sungoliath 43-7 and Yokohama Eagles 57-22.

The final round of pre-season action saw All Blacks who were at the Rugby World Cup return to our screens for the first time on the field since that dramatic World Cup final, making Friday’s action a little more interesting.

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Mark Tele’a didn’t miss a beat in his return, scoring twice in a second half that saw both teams bring out close to their top-strength XVs.

The slimmed-down Caleb Clarke continued to make the most of all opportunities with the ball in hand, looking like he’s regained the form that saw him breakout in 2020, backing up his hat-trick against the Eagles a week ago with a run-away try off a chip kick from Stephen Perofeta.

Most of the action came in the opening 40 minutes though, where the Chiefs’ young loose forward trio of Wallace Sititi, Tom Florence and the physical Malachi Wrampling made their mark around the park.

Midfield duo Quinn Tupaea and Anton Lienert-Brown look to be building on their strong partnership after each having injury-plagued seasons of late. Peniasi Malimali continued to prove he is deserving of minutes on the wing when Emoni Narawa and Etene Nanai-Seturo are rested.

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For the Blues, All Blacks Sevens alumni Caleb Tangitau was impressive again while Cameron Suafua looks more comfortable in the back row after filling in at lock in 2023. Zarn Sullivan’s boot at fullback ensured a clean exit whenever the Blues were backed into their half.

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Meanwhile, in Methven, the Highlanders weren’t slowing down for anybody, handing the reigning champions a 27-point loss despite the return of 2023 All Blacks Tamaiti Williams and Fletcher Newell, as well as the long-awaited return of Sevu Reece.

The scoring was well-rounded for the Highlanders, with all six tries coming from different players. Sean Withy, Sam Gilbert, Jona Nareki, Folau Fakatava, Oliver Haig and Nathan Hastie were the players to get on the board, as Sam Gilbert continued his marksmanship off the tee.

The Highlanders’ defence kept the Crusaders scoreless in the opening 40, fielding what was close to the club’s top starting XV. Folau Fakatava continued his superb pre-season form, scoring to start the second period.

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Having so much change in personnel over the offseason, selections have been at front of mind for coach Clarke Dermody, and next week’s season opener against Moana Pasifika will reveal whose earned a starting spot through their showings over the past three weeks.

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