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Highlanders player ratings vs Blues | Super Rugby Pacific

By Tom Vinicombe
Marino Mikaele-Tu'u. (Photo by Brett Phibbs/Photosport)

Despite all the talk surrounding the make-up of the Super Rugby Pacific finals, the Highlanders would have entered their quarter-final showdown with the Blues confident they could ruffle a few feathers.

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Indeed, the southerners flew out of the blocks early and disrupted the Blues’ attack, frustrating their much more fancied opposition. Up 6-0 through the boot of Marty Banks, things were going as well as could be hoped for the Highlanders – until hooker Andrew Makalio was red-carded for a dangerous tackle.

From that point on, everything went the way of the Blues, with the home side eventually securing a relatively comfortable 35-6 victory at Eden Park.

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How did the Highlanders rate in defeat?

1. Ethan de Groot – 7/10
Both an unstoppable force and an immovable object at scrum time. Got the better of All Blacks counterpart Ofa Tuungafasi in the Highlanders’ first scrum of the game then did the same in the first scrum of the second half. On the other side of the ledger, knocked the ball on from one carry and was fended off by Beauden Barrett en route to the Blues’ second try. Wasn’t able to achieve anything with ball in hand but still a strong final performance ahead of the All Blacks squad announcement. Off in 50th minute.

2. Andrew Makalio – 2
Sent off in the 22nd minute for a reckless tackle on Tom Robinson. Was accurate at lineout time in his quarter of action but ultimately cost his side hugely, with the Highlanders conceding two tries in the hooker’s absence – and no doubt expending plenty of energy in the process.

3. Jermaine Ainsley – 6.5
Like De Groot, impressive at the set-piece. Banked one scrum penalty in the second half to help get the Highlanders out of trouble while inside their own 22. Matched the defensive efforts of three of his teammates, recording a game-high 13 tackles on the night. Rarely used as a ball carrier. Accurately delivered one ball into the lineout when the Highlanders had no hookers on the park. Off in 63rd minute.

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4. Bryn Evans – 5.5
The number one lineout option for the Highlanders and hit plenty of breakdowns but failed to stamp his mark otherwise. Couldn’t rein in an early kick-off, handing the Blues possession on the Highlanders 22, but did incredibly well to prevent a Blues try early in the second quarter by getting under the ball carrier. Off in 53rd minute.

5. Josh Dickson – 7
One of the Highlanders’ best. Snaffled an intercept from Finlay Christie to snuff out an early Blues attack and then crucially stripped the ball at a maul later in the half to shut down a potential drive just five metres out from the Highlanders line. Copped one penalty but was aggressive on both attack and defence and imposed himself on the match physically.

6. Hugh Renton – 5
Clocked up plenty of metres just running on and off the park. Had to temporarily leave the game when the Highlanders were down to 14 men. Was permanently substituted in the 53rd minute but returned temporarily after Marino Mikaele-Tu’u left the park for an HIA, and then did the same again for Billy Harmon. All of that may well have disrupted his flow, with the Hawke’s Bay flanker failing to have much of an impact on the game – although he did get through plenty of work on defence.

 

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7. Billy Harmon – 5.5
Strong in the first quarter, ensuring the Blues struggled to get any quick ball at the breakdown, but faded as the Blues built into the game. Grabbed a turnover when the Blues were looking likely but was otherwise relatively subdued. Off in 66th minute after a nasty head clash with Finlay Christie.

8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u – 7
1/1 lineout. Put his hand up on attack, finishing behind Akira Ioane as the forward with the second-most carries in the match. Ran a great support line off Folau Fakatava and put in a dainty kick to create a scoring chance for his side. With so many All Blacks loose forward incurring injuries recently, his hot form could see him rewarded with a test call up in the coming weeks.

9. Folau Fakatava – 7.5
The best of the Highlanders’ backs. While the Highlanders would have benefited from having the one-two punch of Fakatava and Aaron Smith, Fakatava still did well on his own. One brilliant run from a scrum almost set up a try. Showed off his impressive bag of tricks with some behind-the-back passes and chip kicks and also toiled hard on defence. Penalised once at the breakdown for not releasing the tackled player. Off in 78th minute.

10. Marty Banks – 4
Looked great early doors but made some major errors as the game went on. Kicked a beautiful 50-22 with his first touch of the ball to give the Highlanders some prime attacking ball. Narrowly missed the posts with a snap drop kick when his side were struggling to generate momentum on attack. Raked off plenty of metres with his penalty kicks to the sideline but missed touch in the 35th minute, handing the Blues a counter-attack, and Beauden Barrett found his way over the line moments later. Dropped a high ball in the 58th minute with AJ Lam pouncing to score a try and was at fault for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s late try too.

11. Mosese Dawai – 3
Failed to make an impact on attack and was found out on defence, with his lack of positional awareness creating a big gap for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to exploit early in the second half, leading to the Blues’ third try of the night.

12. Scott Gregory – 4
Showed some good aggressive defence early in the piece to disrupt the Blues’ flow but lacked accuracy at times, missing almost as many tackles as he made. Couldn’t penetrate on attack.

13. Thomas Umaga-Jensen – 6
Was a major metre-eater for the Highlanders in the formative stages of the match but looked to have broken his arm in the first half hour – or at least done some serious damage – and left the field in the 33rd minute.

14. Fetuli Paea – 4.5
Barely sighted before shifting into centre after Umaga-Jensen left the match – but still struggled to get his hands on the ball later in the game. Knocked the ball on when a try was on the cards early in the final quarter. Chalked up eight tackles.

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15. Connor Garden-Bachop – 4.5
Expertly took two high balls under pressure at the end of the first quarter. Like the rest of his backline, couldn’t really offer too much in the way of incisive attack. Threw one poor pass late in the match to Liam Coombes-Fabling which would have resulted in a try had it gone to hand.

Reserves:

16. Leni Apisai – 6
On in 26th minute due to Makalio’s red card. Generally accurate at lineout time and got around the park well.

17. Daniel Lienert-Brown – 5
On in 50th minute. Industrious on defence and made one great run once the game was well and truly dead and buried.

18. Saula Ma’u – 4
On in 63rd minute. Didn’t make much of a positive impact, losing possession on more than one occasion.

19. Max Hicks – 5.5
On in 53rd minute. Earned one breakdown penalty. Looked good with the ball in hand later in the game.

20. Shannon Frizell – 6
On in 53rd minute. Ran with plenty of intent upon his introduction to the match but struggled against a tidal wave of defenders.

21. Kayne Hammington – N/A
On in 78th minute.

22. Liam Coombes-Fabling – 5
On in 33rd minute. Won his side a penalty at the breakdown with his first involvement of the game. Popped up from time to time on attack but the ball never seemed to fall his way.

23. Denny Solomona – N/A
On in 55th minute. Barely featured.

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