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Hoskins Sotutu bags hat-trick as Blues power past Highlanders

By Ned Lester
Mark Tele'a claims the high ball for the Blues. Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

Both the Blues and Highlanders claimed strong wins in round one of Super Rugby Pacific and kicked off Super Round in Melbourne as two of the most intriguing teams in the competition.


The game got off to a poor start for the Blues as Hoskins Sotutu dropped the kickoff. A steady scrum handed the Highlanders an attacking platform and after just one phase Folau Fakatava reversed play and set Sean Withy away in some space, the blindside took the opportunity and dummied his way over the line for the game’s first try after just 80 seconds.

The Blues responded by stealing the kickoff and building pressure through powerful phase play, utilising the big bodies of Sam Darry and Akira Ioane amongst others to make metres.

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Having built patiently and diligently deep into the Highlanders’ half, it was Hoskins Sotutu who made amends for his initial mistake by getting over the line on a short carry.

In a concerning development for the Blues’ lock stocks, Sam Darry went down and after stoically playing on for a couple of minutes, was taken from the field with Josh Beehre coming on early.

The Highlanders’ attack was supremely efficient in the early passages, with another attacking play Rhys Patchell delivered a superb offload – which Sonny Bill Williams endorsed in commentary – that put Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens away untouched for a try in the corner.

History looked to be repeating itself as the Blues made headway down the field through resolute phase play attack. This time the Highlanders weathered the storm, earning a turnover 10 metres from their line and clearing out to halfway.


Another press from the Blues again saw the Highlanders steel the pill, this time through Timoci Tavatavanawai.

Hoskins Sotutu’s renewed intensity was evident when fielding a clearance and sprinting full tilt back into traffic.

The Blues’ handling let them down and the highlanders’ ambitious attack again kicked into gear, this time playing the territorial game.

With a line out five metres from the Blues’ line, Fakatava again reversed play and put a grubber through for Rhys Patchell who won the race and scored the Highlanders’ third try in the 26th minute.


The Blues were adamant to attack through the middle of the field with physical one-off carries and it made metres but the attack was running out of steam once they got deep into the Highlanders half.

Swinging it wider paid dividends thanks to Mark Tele’a though and with more liberal ball movement the Blues were able to finish what looked to be their last attack of the half through Taufa Funaki.

However, it wouldn’t be the last chance the Blues would have as a thundering tackle from Of a Tu’ungafasi on Ethan de Groot saw the ball spilled and Stephen Perofeta spied a gap from behind his own try line.

Perofeta had support from Tele’a as the two worked their way 70 metres up the field. Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens was caught offside trying to slow the ball down once Tele’a was dragged down and was shown a yellow card. Tele’a had no business popping up by the breakdown but found a gap only he could amongst the forward to put his team up 22-15 at the half.


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The Highlanders made 152 tackles on the opening 40 and were straight back on defence after failing to claim the restart.

The Blues’ all-star loose forward trio starred as they charged upfield, assisted again by Mark Tele’a with Hoskins Sotutu again providing the finishing power.

Just three minutes into the second half the Aucklanders had expanded their lead to 14 and the Highlanders responded by changing their entire front row.

The All Blacks coaching group was in the crowd as Sotutu continued to shine and Timoci Tavatavanawai continued to attack the Blues line with enthusiasm and no shortage of courage.

Mark Tele’a snatched an intercept as the Highlanders attacked just five metres from the Blues’ line. Stephen Perofeta’s running game then shined again as he skinned Tanielu Tele’a and got his team up over halfway.

The Highlanders’ composure on both sides of the ball started to falter and it looked like the team would be subjected to their 17th straight loss against New Zealand opposition.

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Fast forward to the 62nd minute and that efficient Highlanders attack came roaring back into the game after a line out 10 metres out from the Blues line. The ball was put through the hands to find Timoci Tavatavanawai and the Fijian shrugged off a couple of tacklers to bring the lead back to 10.

Hoskins Sotutu made it a hat trick minutes later through another robust carry from close to the line.

The Highlanders continued to grind and showed more promise but their execution wasn’t as strong as it was earlier in the contest. Young debutant Ajay Faleafaga finished the game on a high note though as he scored in the corner as the Blues’ energy dropped off a cliff in the final moments. The youngster then converted to finalise the score at 29-37.

A total tally of 225 tackles with just 18 misses was impressive for the young Highlanders, but only forcing the Blues to make 83 will be an enduring lesson.


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