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Highlanders Player Ratings vs Blues | Super Rugby Pacific

By Finn Morton
(Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

The Highlanders’ season hangs in the balance following a tough 16-9 loss to the Blues at Eden Park in the final round of Super Rugby Pacific on Friday.

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Midfielder Sam Gilbert opened the scoring through an early penalty, and added another three points to his tally shortly after.

But the Blues controlled possession, and were eventually rewarded for their efforts with Patrick Tuipulotu scoring late in the first half.

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Another penalty to Sam Gilbert in the 79th minute was the only change to the score in the second half.

The Highlanders will need other results to fall their way if they are to qualify for the playoffs. Here’s how they rated.

  1. Mitch Hunt – 5/10

Speaking with RugbyPass earlier this week, Mitch Hunt said that “fullback allows you to roam a bit.” While that’s true, unfortunately for Hunt, the ball just didn’t come his way too much. It was a scrappy contest, with the third quarter of the contest being dominated by scrums and stoppages.

Hunt only ran the ball twice, made one pass, and finished with four tackles. Not his best performance, but again, it was a tough night for all involved.

  1. Scott Gregory – 6

Into the starting side this week as the only change to the run-on XV, it was a bit of a game of two halves for Scott Gregory. I’m not sure if he touched the ball at all during the first term, but it certainly came his way a few times after the break.

Lining up on the right wing, Gregory finished with three runs and also made eight tackles.

  1. Matt Whaanga – 3

It was just one of those games on Friday. The ball didn’t come Matt Whaanga’s way – literally. The centre finished with zero runs and zero carries, and only made five tackles.

  1. Sam Gilbert – 7

If this does end up being the Highlanders’ last game of the season, then Sam Gilbert deserves some praise from the New Zealand rugby public. Gilbert has been among the best players in Highlanders’ colours this season, and that trend continued into Friday.

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Gilbert kicked two early penalty goals, and came close to a try in the 70th minute as well. In the end, the utility back 50 per cent of his 14 tackle attempts, and also ran the ball five times for more than 20 metres.

  1. Jona Nareki – 5

Much like a lot of his teammates, the ball just didn’t bounce Jona Nareki’s way tonight. Rugby fans weren’t treated to the wingers brilliant ability to run the ball in space – he only carried the ball four times for 16 metres.

  1. Freddie Burns – 6

Former England flyhalf Freddie Burns showcased mere moments of brilliance against the Blues, but these moments were fleeting – it wasn’t an 80 minute masterclass or a disaster, it was somewhere in between. Burns came alive a bit late in the piece, but unfortunately went off after taking a knock.

Burns kicked quite well, but went missing for periods of the first half in particular. The flyhalf came close to scoring during the second half after toeing the ball through, but just didn’t quite have the pace to beat a covering Blues defender to it.

  1. Aaron Smith – 6

All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith did all he could to lead the Highlanders’ attack around the park with intent, precision and skill. But unfortunately it just wasn’t his night – the same can be said for the Highlanders, it just didn’t go to plan.

While Smith’s passing game was accurate, the Highlanders great was otherwise ineffective against the Blues. The halfback didn’t threaten the Blues’ defensive line with his running game, and Smith’s kicking game was absent as well.

Smith was replaced late in the second half, and justifiably received a standing ovation from the Eden Park crowd. If this is his last game in Highlanders colours, then congratulations on a legendary knock Nugget.

  1. Ethan de Groot – 5

World-class loosehead prop Ethan de Groot never fails to give his all on the rugby field, this round 15 flash at Eden Park was no different. The All Black worked tirelessly for his side, and was especially impressive in defence in 12 tackles, but otherwise struggled to make his mark.

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While the Highlanders’ scrum was solid for most of the first term, things took a rapid turn after the break. The visitors conceded penalty after penalty, and a lot of that has to reflect in the ratings of both props.

  1. Andrew Makalio – 7

It might’ve been a tough night for the Highlanders, but hooker Andrew Makalio still managed to impress – especially during the opening 40 minutes. By the half-time break, Makalio had made a staggering 13 tackles, which was five more than the next best player on either team.

The No. 2 just didn’t stop running. Makalio was also accurate at the lineout, having hit all of his targets at Eden Park by the time he was replaced during the second half.

  1. Jermaine Ainsley – 3

Just like teammate Ethan de Groot, the Highlanders’ scrum performance has to reflect in Jermaine Ainsley’s rating. The Highlanders gave away a series of penalties during the first 20 minutes of the second half, and Ainsley eventually paid the price. The prop, who has otherwise been quite good this season, was sent to the sin bin.

While Ainsley’s is executing at the set-piece, the prop also failed to make his mark around the field of play with just six tackles one run.

  1. Pari Pari Parkinson – 5

Highlanders lock Pari Pari Parkinson struggled to make a lasting impact against the Blues. The Maori All Blacks representative only ran the ball twice and made five tackles. It was a tough night for both teams, especially the opening half.

  1. Max Hicks – 6

Max Hicks put in a solid shift for the Highlanders before leaving the field early in the second with what appeared to be an injury. Hicks won a lineout against the Blues’ throw in the 27th minute, and also got stuck in on the defensive side of the ball with eight tackles.

Hicks left the field in the 51st minute, but appeared to be holding his hip as he ran off the park.

  1. Shannon Frizell – 7

All Blacks flanker Shannon Frizell made the second-most tackles out of any player on the night with 13, and also brought his near trademark physicality to the Highlanders’ attack.

  1. Billy Harmon – 7.5

Flanker Billy Harmon has been the Highlanders’ best player all season, and Friday night’s clash was no different. The skipper led by example with a staggering 19 tackles, and also finished with the equal-most carries out of any Highlanders player with five.

  1. Hugh Renton – 6.5

Hugh Renton has been sensational for the Highlanders this season, and rugby fans saw more examples of how brilliant the No. 8 can be throughout the match on Friday. Renton won a penalty at the breakdown inside the opening 10 minutes, and continued to work hard throughout the remainder of the half.

But as the match went on after the break, Renton fell out of the game a little bit – and it started on the wrong foot right from minute one. Off the kick-off to start the second half, the ball came Renton’s way – but he dropped it cold.

Replacements:

  1. Rhys Marshall – 5
  2. Daniel Lienert-Brown – 5
  3. Saula Ma’u – 4.5
  4. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u – 7
  5. Sean Withy – 6.5
  6. Folau Fakatava – 6.5
  7. Connor Garden-Bachop – 6
  8. Fetuli Paea – 5.5
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