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Blues edge Highlanders in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final to end 18-year title drought

By AAP

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The Blues captured their first Super Rugby title in 18 years by beating the Highlanders 23-15 in an all-New Zealand final of this season’s trans-Tasman tournament.

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Blake Gibson’s try three minutes from the end clinched the win after the Highlanders, trailing 13-6 at halftime, rallied with three penalties in seven minutes to lead 15-13 after 66 minutes.

A penalty to replacement flyhalf Harry Plummer gave the Blues the lead again in the 70th minute and Gibson’s try, after a break from No.8 Hoskins Sotutu, sealed the win when Plummer’s conversion created an eight-point margin.

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Time ran out for a Highlanders’ comeback and the Blues celebrated in front of a home crowd of 36,000 at Auckland’s Eden Park.

“This is a weight off our shoulders,” the Blues’ All Blacks backrower Dalton Papalii said.

“To be honest, we had a tough start in Super Rugby Aotearoa but we had a second chance at a bit of silverware and to come away with a win like that … it just g oes to show we believed in ourselves.

“When we had to dig deep, we trusted each other and we trusted the process and we came out on top.”

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The Blues won Super Rugby in 1996, rugby’s first year as a professional sport, again the following year and for a third time in 2003.

But the years since have been lean for New Zealand’s largest and richest franchise, which has become a graveyard for coaches as it fruitlessly pursued a fourth crown.

Each of the Blues’ four New Zealand rivals has enjoyed Super Rugby success since 2003; the Crusaders six times, the Chiefs twice, the Hurricanes once, and the Highlanders when they won the full four-nation tournament in 2014.

The Blues again came up short of the final in this season’s New Zealand domestic tournament – Super Rugby Aotearoa.

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But they won all five matches against Australian opponents in the regular season of the trans-Tasman competition to reach the final which they won by two tries to nil.< /p>

“It’s a pretty surreal feeling to have a full E den Park like this. It brought us home,” Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said.

“This is something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time and we’ve got to enjoy it.”

Blues 23 (Tries to Mark Telea and Blake Gibson; 2 conversions and two penalties to Otere Black, penalty to Harry Plummer)

Highlanders 15 (4 penalties to Mitch Hunt, penalty to Josh Ioane; yellow card to Ash Dixon)

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Blues edge Highlanders in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final to end 18-year title drought

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