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Blues remain in top spot with comprehensive win over Highlanders

By Finn Morton
Kade Banks of the Blues celebrates his try during the round 13 Super Rugby Pacific match between Blues and Highlanders at Eden Park, on May 18, 2024, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

With just two more matches to play in the regular season, the Blues are still in the box seat to take out top spot on the ladder after beating the Highlanders 47-13 in Auckland on Saturday.

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Following on from their win over the Hurricanes last time out, the Blues looked to take another step towards pole position in Super Rugby Pacific against another one of their Kiwi rivals.

The Blues had to make some last-minute changes with Marcel Renata, Bryce Heem and Stephen Perofeta all ruled out of the round 13 blockbuster shortly before kick-off at Eden Park.

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But as the Blues have shown time and time again this season, they have the depth to match it with the best in the competition. The 23 men selected remained focused as they took the field.

First five Harry Plummer got the match underway in what appeared to be great conditions at the well-known New Zealand venue, and it was the Blues who had the first opportunity to strike.

The Highlanders’ Fabian Holland couldn’t quite reel in the kick-off, instead, it was Caleb Clarke who helped the Blues charge into their opponent’s 22-area with a confident look about them.

While they knocked the ball on, the Aucklanders were awarded a free kick at the scrum. That led to a popular opening score from All Blacks and Blues prop Ofa Tu’ungafasi who burrowed over.

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Akira Ioane had peeled off the scrum and went close, but after a couple of phases, it was Tu’ungafasi who crashed over for the early try. Sharp-shooter Plummer nailed the conversion.

But the Highlanders, to their credit, hit back immediately. After making their way forward with the ball and setting up for a lineout close to the Blues’ try line, the Landers ran a set-piece play.

Match Summary

0
Penalty Goals
2
7
Tries
1
6
Conversions
1
0
Drop Goals
0
132
Carries
85
7
Line Breaks
3
13
Turnovers Lost
12
5
Turnovers Won
5

Flanker Sean Withy ran right off the maul before hitting winger Timoci Tavatavanawai with an inside pass. Tavatavanawai ended up scoring the Highlanders’ first inside the first 10 minutes.

7-all. It was a stunning start.

Blues fullback Cole Forbes was the next to score in the 13th minute. Midfielder Corey Evans put a clever grubber kick through, and with the ball sitting up perfectly, Forbes ran in untouched.

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In another stunning turn, the Blues were back in the lead 14-7.

You’d be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu after what happened next.

While the Highlanders didn’t cross for a try, they did cut down the lead shortly after with Cam Millar converting a penalty. Miller stepped up and added another shortly after, too.

With just a one-point difference, the two teams were locked in a tense battle. They traded penalties around midfield but the Blues seized their opportunity with greater execution.

After kicking to the corner following another penalty, the Blues’ rolling maul proved unstoppable. They moved forward with determination and grit and appeared destined to score.

Hooker Kurt Eklund reaped the rewards by crashing over in the 31st minute. The successful conversion from Plummer ended up being the final points of the half as well.

The Blues took a hard-fought 21-13 lead into the sheds.

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It just seemed to be one of those games where the first points in the second half were going to prove decisive. To the delight of the home crowd, it was the Blues who delivered the first blow.

After spreading the ball to the right wing, Kade Banks crossed in the corner to score his first career try in Super Rugby Pacific. They had an impressive lead and the confidence to match.

But that wasn’t all.

In a similar moment to the first half, Kurt Eklund was next to score after diving over from another maul to push the Blues’ lead out to a “commanding position” as commentator Tony Johnson said.

In another tough blow for the visitor, Cam Millar was ruled out for the rest of the match shortly after. But the Highlanders didn’t exactly throw in the towel against one of their Kiwi foes.

If anything the Highlanders looked the more threatening of the two teams for a period as they set up camp inside the Blues’ 22. Even without Millar, they still looked quite good.

But no points went the Highlanders’ way. Instead, it was the Blues who once again added to their lead with Taufa Funaki scoring down the other end midway through the half.

An intercept to Caleb Clarke in the 69th minute was another try-scoring moment as the Aucklanders ran away with a comfortable win that wasn’t even close in the end.

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