Highlanders topple Blues in Dunedin
February 22, 2014
Ben Smith crashes over during the try fest between the Highlanders and Blues
© Getty Images
The Highlanders have shocked the Blues, for whom a Benji Marshall-inspired comeback fell short in Dunedin.
Marshall, who starred at five-eighth during an 11-year National Rugby League career, was injected at fullback with 21 minutes remaining to help the Blues launch a late surge after they trailed 24-0 at half-time on Saturday night. The former New Zealand Kiwis captain produced some nice touches on his Super Rugby debut but he couldn't carry the error-plagued Blues to victory.
The Highlanders, meanwhile, produced an encouraging performance with a side featuring five players new to Super Rugby and four others making their first appearance for the side. The Highlanders won just three games last year to finish 14th despite boasting a squad with more accomplished players than on this year's roster.
The southerners pulled virtually out of sight when they scored their fourth try through new wing Patrick Osborne to earn a bonus point in the 50th minute. The score marked their final points of the match, but they did enough to hold out a Blues side that scored late through reserve tight forwards Patrick Tuipulotu and Angus Ta'avao. Tuipulotu's try was created by a classic Marshall back flick on the halfway line. Second five-eighth Francis Saili scored the first of the Blues' three second-half tries with a superb solo try soon after half-time.
The Blues' frustrating night was summed up after the final hooter when first five-eighth Chris Noakes missed an easy penalty shot that would have given them a bonus point.
Benji Marshall could only watch from the bench as the Highlanders impressed in the first half
The Highlanders played without possession for long periods but were the more clinical side on attack. All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith scored the first try when he charged down a Noakes clearing kick and scooted away from the hapless No.10.
Centre Malakai Fekitoa doubled the advantage to 14-0 after slicing through the Blues defence on the halfway line. Smith was at his best on the stroke of half-time when a sharp cut-out pass put fullback Ben Smith over.
The Highlanders have won four of their past five games against the Blues, including a 38-28 win at Dunedin in the teams' final match of last season. Highlanders management will be concerned after 39-year-old lock Brad Thorn left the game midway through the first half with a rib injury.
The Blues have a worry of their own after captain and flanker Luke Braid was assisted from the field late with what appeared to be a serious knee injury.
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