The Blues’ Aotearoa title hopes were dealt a huge blow after they were beaten 35-29 by the Highlanders in Dunedin earlier on Friday. They remain second on the standings, but now trail log leaders, the Crusaders, by seven points having played six matches each.

The Highlanders, who ran in five tries to four, have now moved into third place.

The match started with a bang. Blues scrumhalf, Jonathan Ruru, went over after just five-minutes of play. 10-minutes later, the Highlanders hit back. Number 8, Kazuki Himeno, scored to put his side back in the game.

No less than five tries were scored in the first half. The home side went over for three; the Blues were responsible for two. And the Highlanders went into the break with a 22-17 lead.

The second half, was another titanic tussle, especially among the forwards. Home fans had to wait for 18-minutes after play resumed, before left-wing, Jona Nareki, extended the Highlanders’ lead to 10 points.

Flyhalf, Mitch Hunt, then put the hosts firmly in control with 13 minutes to go. His successful penalty kick gave the Highlanders a more comfortable 30-17 lead. But the Blues weren’t done yet.
Replacement, Nepo Laulala, dived over two-minutes later. His try was converted and the visitors were right back in it, trailing by just six points.

But their efforts received a huge blow moments later. Replacement, Alex Hodgman, was red-carded for foul play. And the pendulum again swung in the home side’s favour. The Highlanders made the most of this opportunity. With five-minutes left, replacement Michael Collins, scored his second try of the season.

The Blues again went over in the dying seconds of the match. But eighth man, Hoskins Sotutu’s effort, was too little too late. The Highlanders had done enough to record a 35-29 victory, their first win at home this year.

Highlanders Captain, Aaron Smith says, “Rugby’s always about next man up. That’s why you build squads, that’s why you have pre-seasons; to build that resilience. Just real proud. That’s a hell of a team over there. Star-studded and all that. And we just really wanted to nail this week for our fans, and I’m hugely proud.”

On Saturday, the Chiefs will take on the Crusaders in Waikato, in the only other Aotearoa match this weekend.

Kick-off is at five past nine South African time.