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Highlanders player ratings vs Blues | Super Rugby Pacific

By Jack O'Rourke
Gareth Evans. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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The winless Highlanders were looking to get their season going against Blues on Friday at North Harbour Stadium. Besides competition points, the two teams were contesting the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy.

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The Highlanders hung tough in the first half to go in ahead at halftime. In the second stanza, the game opened up, as the Blues lifted their intensity when Taine Plumtree scored back-to-back tries. The Blues pulled further ahead and the Highlanders were not able to fire a shot besides a late try from Shannon Frizell.

It was an extraordinary end to the game with each team chasing an elusive bonus point. The game went for 90 minutes with the Blues surviving a last-ditch effort from the Landers. 

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Here’s how the Highlanders rated:

1. Ethan De Groot – 6.5/10
The All Blacks rookie formed a handy partnership with Jermaine Ainsley to hold up the scrum and set the platform for the Highlanders outside backs. Big wraps on this kid. 

2. Liam Coltman – 5.5
The veteran hooker toiled away in the rucks and helped out at scrum time. Bottled a Highlanders lineout five metres out from the Blues line right on half time. Blues stole three lineouts when he was on the field. 

3. Jermaine Ainsley – 7
Going from strength to strength every game. He was powerful in the scrum and gave the Landers opportunities to launch their attack from set-piece.

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4. Manaaki Selby-Rickit – 6
Was targeted in the lineout a few times. Was in everything at breakdown time to support his forwards. Replaced by Bryn Evans. 

5. Josh Dickson – 6
Put in the hard yards and lasted for the full 80 minutes and more. Was tireless around the park and made himself a regular target at the lineout with his big frame, securing the pill three times. 

6. Shannon Frizell – 7.5
Was strong over the ball to win the Highlanders some important penalties. Showed nice skills by breaking the line and getting the ball away to his support. Busted right through the middle to score in the 73rd minute.

 

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7. Gareth Evans – 7
Playing at openside flanker, Evans was influential at the breakdown, with three turnovers. A big body in the Highlanders backrow, he made his presence field across the park. Could make the move to the side of the scrum permanent.

8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u – 7
Showed his physicality all night and got through a mountain of defensive work. Wasn’t as dynamic as we know he can be, but a good performance from the back of the scrum. 

9. Aaron Smith – 7.5
Captaining the side, he brought the tempo from the opening kickoff. It’s nothing less than what we have come to expect from the veteran Highlander. Saved a certain try by stripping the ball from Caleb Clarke as he was going over to score. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t drag his team to win. 

10. Mitch Hunt – 5.5
Was well contained by the Blues rush defence which shut down his options out wide and didn’t allow him to click into gear. His kicking options were poor and it culminated in his final two kick-offs not going ten metres. 

11. Mosese Dawai – 6.5
Was solid in defence on the left wing but didn’t find himself in space very often. There were glimpses of his power and pace when the match opened up a bit in the second half. 

12. Thomas Umaga Jensen – 7
Showed plenty of strength and power by busting through the line on numerous occasions. Attacked the Blues 10-12 channel for the Landers and was a handful for the opposition. Unfortunately went off injured and the Landers missed him. 

13. Scott Gregory – 5
Didn’t offer much impact in the midfield. Was dogged in defence but a few lapses in judgement went against him. A poor clearing kick set up Plumtree’s second try, and that seemed to open the floodgates for the Blues. 

14. Liam Coombes Fabling  – 5.5
Following a match to forget against the Canes, he redeemed himself by injecting himself where he could and was solid under the high ball. Had a tough assignment marking Caleb Clarke. Was replaced by Marty Banks shortly after halftime. 

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15. Connor Garden Bachop – 6
Was solid at the back but wasn’t able to inject himself as much as he would have liked. Moved to the wing in the second half to accommodate Banks at fullback. 

Reserves:

 16. Andrew Makalio – N/A

17. Daniel Lienert-Brown – 6.5
Got on the field in the second half and carried hard with ball in hand. 

18. Josh Hohneck – N/A
Got plenty of minutes in the second half. Played his role admirably. 

19. Bryn Evans – 6
The wily veteran joined his brother in the 60th minute.

20. Hugh Renton – N/A
Came on to pack down on the side of the scrum. 

21. Folau Fakatava – N/A
Got on the field in the 75th minute and immediately kicked possession back to the Blues. Still had plenty of minutes to make something happen with the game going into extra time. 

22. Marty Banks – 6.5
Came on after halftime to inject an extra playmaker into the game. Slotted into first receiver to combine with Mitch Hunt. Peeled off a massive kick into the corner to set up the Highlanders but they couldn’t capitalise on it. 

23. Ngatungane Punivai – 7
Punivai returned from injury to add some impact of the bench. Carried hard through the middle of the field to give the Highlanders momentum late in the second half.

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