The final instalment round eight of Super Rugby Aotearoa was fought out between the hardworking Highlanders and the ambitious Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Sunday.

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Both sides went into the match with winning form and with the Gordon Hunter Trophy on the line.

The second-placed Blues knew that a loss today would seriously impede their title chances against the Crusaders, who sat comfortably ahead of them with an eight-point buffer before the first whistle.

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Sam Whitelock and Aaron Cruden talk milestones

On the back of a dominant forward pack the Blues were simply too much for the Highlanders and took the match 32-21. The Highlanders to a man did not stop trying, yet poor option-taking and skill execution at pivotal times proved costly.

So, how did the Highlanders rate?

15. Mitch Hunt – 6/10

A fair effort without but not a performance that convinced he is a long-term Highlanders fullback.

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14. Josh McKay – 7/10

Didn’t get much opportunity in attack yet applied himself admirably today. He is the type of player that could attract ‘cult-status’ akin to Marty Banks or Richard ‘Barracuda’ Buckman.

13. Michael Collins – 6/10

A quiet day for a quality player. Early in the match was guilty of pushing a pass when the Blues were into the Highlanders offensive line that resulted in a turnover. Looked more comfortable at fullback several weeks ago.

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12. Sio Tomkinson – 7/10

Had a difficult task today and gave it a fair crack. He was physical in both aspects of play.

11. Scott Gregory – 6.5/10

Looking more and more comfortable on the left wing. Works hard in defence and assisted in holding up the Blues attack when they were over the line. Had several impressive involvements in attack yet he may not have the pace to truly dominate at this level?

10. Josh Ioane – 6.5/10

A fair shift by him considering he was working off a forward pack that was dominated and outplayed. Would like to see him take on the line more in attack. Again, there were defensive frailties.

9 Aaron Smith (co-captain) – 7.5/10

Another quality performance by the All Blacks No. 9. Was busy and dangerous all day and appeared to have ‘miked’ a controversial penalty when tripping over Karl Tu’inukuafe, who appeared to have done everything he could to not involved himself in the play. Credit to his cunningness. His try saving ‘boot-under-the-ball’ early in the match was testament to his rugby prowess.

8. Marino Mikaele-Tu’u – 7/10

A definitive performance in attack that confirmed he is an absolute threat in that aspect of the game, yet if he is going to take his game to the next level, he must become more authoritative in defence.

7. Dillon Hunt – 7/10

Appeared to be lost in the fog in the early stages but in the middle of the second half had several exhaustive efforts in possession and was a handful for the Blues. Built small, played big. One of his better performances this season.

6. Shannon Frizell – 8/10

Try saving turnover, dominant tackles, damaging runs and a try all lead to another reason as to why he is a serious contender for the All Blacks No. 6 jersey this season.

5. Jack Whetton – 5.5/10

His highlight was a lineout win at the back and set a stable platform that lead to a Highlanders try off the subsequent driving maul. Needs to find a way to have a greater impact. Gave away a penalty in his own half to rob his side of possession and put them under pressure. Not convinced he is a player of Super Rugby standard.

4. Pari Pari Parkinson – 7/10

Was the main lineout man for the Highlanders and looked to impose himself on the Blues. Whilst guilty of a couple of infringements, he was one of the better Highlanders forwards today.

3. Jeff Thwaites – 5.5/10

Wasn’t his best day out. While there was effort around the park, he was dominated at the set piece that set the tone for the Blues victory.

2. Ash Dixon (co-captain) – 6/10

As always, he was in the thick of it, yet his option taking today wasn’t always his best. Ran himself when deep on attack when he had numbers outside. Has had better matches this year.

1. Ayden Johnstone – 5.5/10 

Like Thwaites he was dominated up front, but that didn’t stop him from putting in a fair effort around the park.

Replacements:

16. Liam Coltman – 5.5/10 – on the 58th

Was guilty of a poor throw when his side were deep on attack. Worked hard in tight but overall didn’t bring the impact desired.

17. Ethan de Groot – 5/10 – on in the 68th

Did his job.

18. Siate Tokolahi – 5/10 – on in the 51st

Did his best to secure the set piece but it was not his day.

19. Manaaki Selby-Rickit – 6.5/10 – on in the 51st

Brought some aggression and intent to the Highlanders and may have earned himself a start next week.

20 Jesse Parete – 6/10 – on the 68th

One of his better performances and was a handful at times when operating down the flanks.

21. Folau Fakatava – 5/10 – on in the 72nd

Was busy but his passing is erratic and stifled the attack at times.

22. Bryn Gatland – N/A

23. Jona Nareki 7.5/10 – on in the 57th

Was dangerous from the get-go. Should be starting for the Highlanders.

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