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Blues dent Highlanders' Super Rugby playoff hopes

By AAP
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - JUNE 02: Patrick Tuipulotu of the Blues (R) is congratulated on his try during the round 15 Super Rugby Pacific match between Blues and Highlanders at Eden Park, on June 02, 2023, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The Blues have opened the final weekend of the Super Rugby Pacific regular season with a 16-9 home win over the Highlanders that severely dented the visitors’ playoff hopes and opened the door for their rivals.

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The Blues had to grind out a victory which ensured them third place in the standings and a home quarter-final but fell short of the big win which would have given them a shot at overhauling the Crusaders in second.

Only skipper Patrick Tuipulotu managed to breach the steely Highlanders defence but that try, added to three penalties and a conversion from the boot of centre Harry Plummer, proved enough to prevail in an arm-wrestle of a contest.

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The Highlanders were looking for a first victory over New Zealand opposition in 16 matches and needed a bonus-point win to be sure of a spot in the playoffs.

They drew first blood with a Sam Gilbert penalty, with the Blues not hitting the front until lock Tuipulotu barged over the line for the only try of the ni ght just shy of the half-hour mark.

The Highlanders showed little attacking intent but staunch defence restricted the Blues to a 16-6 lead from halftime until Gilbert kicked his third penalty in the 79th minute to secure a losing bonus point.

“We gave it our best, we gave a lot of heart but we just couldn’t quite finish it off,” Highlanders captain Billy Harmon said.

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The Highlanders, in eighth place – level on points with the Queensland Reds, who play the Fijian Drua on Saturday, in seventh – are one of four teams now battling it out for the last two playoff spots.

Their final tally of 24 points means the Western Force (22) and the Fijian Drua (21) both have an opportunity to overhaul them and move into the finals places with a win on Saturday.

The hopes of the Melbourne Rebels, who also went into the weekend on 21 points, were ended by a 33-17 defeat at the ACT Brumbies.

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finn 10 hours ago
Massive red flag raised by weakened Champions Cup teams – Andy Goode

I wonder if the problem of some teams not taking it that seriously would be helped by making performance in the champions cup count towards qualification and/or seeding in the following year’s competition. Eg. top four seeds would be winners of the URC, premiership, and top 14, plus best performing team in the previous year’s CC who have not otherwise qualified. Doing that the seedings for this years comp. would have been: Tier one: Saracens - Munster - Toulouse - la Rochelle Tier two: Sale - Stormers - Racing 92 - Leinster Tier three: Leicester - Connacht - Bordeaux - Exeter Tier four: Northampton - Ulster - Lyon - Sharks Tier five: Harlequins - Glasgow - Stade Francais - Edinburgh Tier six: Bath - Bulls - Toulon - Ospreys The competition would probably work better with fewer teams, so I’d probably favour only the first 4 tiers being invited, and then going straight to a quarter final without a round of 16. On the one hand this would possibly incentivise teams to take the champions cup seriously, and on the other it would mean that the latter stages would be more likely to involve teams that have demonstrated a willingness to take the competition seriously. The main differences between my proposed system and the actual draw is that mine would give la Rochelle a fairly easy ride to the quarters, and would either exclude the Bulls entirely or would give then an insurmountably difficult draw. As it happened Exeter got quite an easy pool draw but that was a bit of a fluke. My system would reward Exeter for being one of the teams that demonstrably devote a lot of attention to the CC by guaranteeing them a good draw.

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