The Highlanders travelled to the City of Sails for their round three clash with the resurgent Blues at Eden Park on Saturday evening. With 4 competition points already, Ash Dixon’s men found themselves ranked 3rd on the Super Rugby Aotearoa table before the whistle with today’s opponents setting the pace on 8.

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A loss for the Highlanders would make it hard to stay in touch with the Blues and Crusaders and a win tonight would be a message that the men from the deep south have the game to be relevant at the business end of the tournament.

However, it was not the Highlanders night, going down 27-24 in an enthralling match with the hosts securing the Gordon Hunter Trophy.

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How did the Highlanders players rate?

1. Ayden Johnstone – 7/10

Applied himself well against stiff opposition. Impressed with his work rate and physicality but is prone to dropping off a tackle when coming off the line too hard. Still a very solid performance.

2. Ash Dixon – 7

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A solid skipper’s performance. Brought his experience and drove his forwards in and around the breakdown and middle of the park and had the Blues on the back foot at times. Secured a try early in the match but a poor defensive misread on the right edge lead to a Blues try. This coupled with some infringing around the ruck tarnished his night.

3. Siate Tokolahi – 6.5

Solid scrummager and has some ball play about him. Played with the right intent and has the makings of a very decent front row forward.

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4. Pari Pari Parkinson – 7

Building on his reputation as a high work-rate lock. Impressed with his work in the tight, but needs to address his body height as, at times, he arrived into the contact too high. Good support play when team was in possession and clearly has a big future in the game.

5. Josh Dickson – 8

Put in a shift befitting of a South Island tight forward of yesteryear. No fuss, just hard work and driving defence and always in the thick of it. Every tight five needs a player like Josh Dickson. Impressed in the lineout, stealing two in the second half. Made 11 tackles and missed none. Best Highlanders forward on the park.

6. Shannon Frizell – 7

His opening minutes were average with body height and body position into contact being questionable but as the match went on, he found his rhythm and was strong in the carry and tackle and deserved his try as reward for his efforts. Needs to build on this performance.

7. Dillon Hunt – 6.5

There was nothing exceptional about his performance but it was a very respectable night out for Hunt. Worked hard on and off the ball but couldn’t say he ever truly imposed himself in any particular area.

8. Marino Mikaele Tu’u – 7

Whilst all the talk midweek had been about Hoskins Sotutu, Tu’u impressed with several power carries. He brought the energy as the game progressed and lead his team over the advantage line. Prone to coming into contact too high and needs to improve his defence

9. Aaron Smith – 7.5

Started a little quiet but his option taking and execution was, as usual, exceptional. Possibly underplayed his hand in the first half. Dropped off a cover tackle that contributed to a Blues try that would be the only significant blemish. Second half was his. He made a crucial clean out to secure his side the ball when the Blues had been pressuring deep in the Highlanders half and nearly rallied his team to a win.

10. Mitch Hunt – 7.5

Much to like about his performance. His general kicking game was solid as was his positional play. Scored a wonderful second half try when he took on the line. A busy player who would benefit by having another playmaker at 12 or 15 as too much comes off Hunt.

11. Jona Nareki – 7

Started poorly and looked apprehensive. Exited poorly that lead to a turn over in possession but appeared to find his feet as the match progressed and had some solid touches and chased the kicks. Plenty to work on but there is some class there.

12. Patelesio Tomkinson – 7.5

Worked hard for his team all night in defence making 9 tackles and only dropping off 1. Carried well into tight spaces and got his side over the advantage line. Solid night out.

13. Rob Thompson – 6

Not his best performance. Had a poor defensive read that contributed to Caleb Clarke’s try. Needed to find a way to influence the match but failed to do so. Quality player who will no doubt improve from this.

14. Sam Gilbert – 7

His 20 minutes prior to injury were encouraging. A courageous player who throws himself into the collision and was looking for work, looking to impose himself on the game from the outset. Appeared to have sustained a serious leg injury but a good performance up until that point. A good prospect indeed.

15. Scott Gregory – 3

Dreadful. Nothing really went right for him. Had a kick charged down kick that lead to a Blues try, did some aimless kicking that turned over possession which led to another Blues try. This coupled with handling errors is everything you don’t want from a full back.

Replacements:

16. Liam Coltman – 6

Came on and brought some no-frills steel to the Highlanders pack.

17. Daniel Lienert-Brown – 5

Was there for about the last 20 but didn’t impose himself enough.

18. Jeff Thwaites – 7

Nearly scored a wonderful try that any back would have been proud of after storming onto a short ball in the midfield but was felled just short of the line. Did his job elsewhere. One to watch.

19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit – 5

Didn’t see much of him but was found to be too high in body height when the Highlanders were driving for the line off an offensive line-out. Needs to fix this.

20. Teariki Ben-Nicholas – 5.5

Had limited impact on the game.

21. Kayne Hammington – N/A

22. Bryn Gatland – 6

Had a few classy touches after coming on for Gregory.

23. Ngane Punivai – 6.5

Scored a wonderful disallowed try out wide on the right flank and did all the work to beat his man on the outside. Has something to offer.

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