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'Nearly lost another one': Relieved Blues lament second half slump

By Ben Smith
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

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When Highlanders fullback Sam Gilbert crashed over for his second try with ten minutes remaining, the home side drew within one score of the Blues at 32-25.

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With how the Blues have finished games this year, head coach Leon MacDonald admitted his heart rate was once again through the roof as his side tried to close out proceedings.

“Seems to be a theme for a lot of our games this year, [going] right down to the wire,” he told media in the post-match press conference.

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“Nearly lost another one in the dying stages again so pretty relieved when that final whistle blew. Great game of rugby, I thought. Both teams really tried to play with the ball
and having a bit of atmosphere and the crowd and under the roof, it’s a great place to play the game.”

The Blues built a 10-nil lead through an early Beauden Barrett penalty and a barnstorming try to left wing Caleb Clarke which became an 18-6 halftime lead when Barrett skinned the Highlanders down the shortside from a wayward scrum right before the break.

With Hoskins Sotutu under pressure, the ball bobbled backward but some smart work form Sam Nock rescued the situation and found his first five hanging out on the left wing where Highlanders wing Ngane Punivai was caught napping.

Head coach Leon MacDonald believed his side may have ‘got away with one’ as a knock-on could have been ruled at the base of the scrum but it was a key play in the context of the match.

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“There was a big call whether there was a knock on. We feel we got away with one [there]. Those little moments were big and then we had a couple go our way which
was nice,” he said.

“I thought we were able to nail a few key plays at key times – scoring before halftime. And losing Beauden, a little bit of experience at the end there, we just looked maybe a little bit rattled at the final stages.”

The Blues lost Barrett to concussion just minutes into the second half which forced Stephen Perofeta into the game early and the Highlanders were able to arrest momentum of the game.

Sam Gilbert sliced through from a well timed pass from Mitch Hunt to pull the home side into the game at 18-11 but an inability to exit gave the Blues possession straight back and they built pressure until Hoskins Sotutu broke through the line for an individual try.

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Down 25-11 the Highlanders didn’t give in, with another Mitch Hunt pass setting up a try for Dan Lienert-Brown pulling them within one score again following a Blues’ turnover in their own half.

Just moments later it looked like the Highlanders had a double strike when Mosese Dawai grabbed a fortunate bounce out of the clutches of Blues’ fullback Zarn Sullivan following a second box kick from Aaron Smith.

However the try was called back on review after replays showed Dawai had knocked on trying to bat back Aaron Smith’s first box kick which the Highlanders had recovered.

Leon MacDonald said his side ‘didn’t do a fantastic job’ of defending in the second half which let the Highlanders build pressure and score points. He said they lacked ‘zip’ in the second stanza.

“Yeah we didn’t have a lot of ball in the second half; we sort of spent a lot of time defending and we didn’t do a fantastic job of it either,” MacDonald lamented.

“I thought we defended really well in the first half but like I said, we just lacked a bit of zip in that second half. We were a bit slow and the Highlanders sniffed blood and they went for the kill and yeah, we wouldn’t have wanted to go into the 90th minute this week.”

 

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