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Highlanders captain Ash Dixon feared the worst after high tackle on Blues pivot Otere Black

By Tom Vinicombe

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While the Blues were able to earn a win over the Highlanders on Saturday night and end their 18-year Super Rugby title drought, it took an almighty push in the final quarter to get over the line after the visitors took a 15-13 lead heading into the final 10 minutes of the match.

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Despite having limited possession and territory, the Highlanders had made the most of their opportunities – scoring three points almost every time they fought their way into the Blues half during the second stanza of the match.

The Blues, in contrast, got themselves into a number of points-scoring opportunities but couldn’t quite convert.

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The odds would have been even further stacked against the Highlanders if they had been forced to play the majority of the match without inspirational co-captain Ash Dixon – but that’s what came near to transpiring when the hooker put a dangerous shot in on Blues first five Otere Black in the 24th minute of the game.

Dixon, rushing out of the line, connected Black’s chin with his shoulder and while many would have expected referee Mike Fraser to brandish a red card, Dixon was instead sin-binned for 10 minutes.

Following the game, the Highlanders rake revealed he wasn’t feeling especially optimistic after the tackle – but not for the reasons many would assume.

When asked if he expected the worst as the officiating team assessed the replays, Dixon responded in the affirmative.

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“Yeah I did, actually,” Dixon said. “To be honest, [just] because he’s actually a good mate. I was speaking to him on Thursday night. He’s a close friend of mine, I’ve known him for a long time and when I saw him on the ground, it was more that he was my friend and I had to go check him and make sure he’s all good and I had a good yarn to him when I was off the field.”

While Dixon and Black both started their careers with the Hurricanes before eventually shifting to their current franchises, their time didn’t overlap in Wellington. Dixon spent two years in New Zealand’s capital in 2013 and 2014 before moving south to the Highlanders in 2015, the same season that Black joined the Hurricanes.

The pair did, however, cross paths that season, with Black earning his first call-up to the Maori All Blacks.

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Both Dixon and Black have been regular fixtures in that representative team in the years following and will again turn out for the Maori in their upcoming series with Samoa, with the first game kicking off next Saturday in Wellington.

Black is the sole first five named in the squad (although the Chiefs’ Kaleb Trask, named as an outside back, will likely spend time at first receiver) while Dixon will captain the team from hooker – providing there are no further repercussions for his dangerous tackle on Saturday night.

The ostensibly inconsistent officiating of high tackles has frustrated many a fan throughout the current season. Damian McKenzie was sent off and suspended for three games for a high shot on Reds halfback Tate McDermott last month, while a number of seemingly more dangerous shots have received lesser punishments.

No yellow cards or missed offences have been elevated in status by the judiciary this year, however – so it’s unlikely that Dixon will face further sanction.

The Highlanders captain acknowledged that the tackle on Black was poor – but said there was absolutely no malice in the hit.

“That was silly from me,” he said. “Na, no way, [it wasn’t malicious]. Not some guy like that. He’s a top bloke and a good man. I was just trying to stop him and just got my timing a bit off.”

Black was pulled from the field for an HIA after the tackle but eventually returned to the pitch at the same time as Dixon returned from his yellow card.

The 26-year-old pivot has played his final match for the Blues and will head to Japan ahead of next year’s Top League competition. Dixon, meanwhile, clocked up his 100th game for the Highlanders on Saturday evening.

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Highlanders captain Ash Dixon feared the worst after high tackle on Blues pivot Otere Black

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