Super Rugby: Highlanders shock Blues with bonus-point win
The Highlanders started their Super Rugby season in fine style as they clinched a surprise 29-21 victory over the Blues.
Last Updated: 23/02/14 12:08pm
Jamie Joseph's unheralded side surged into a 21-0 lead by half-time before holding off the visitors' fightback after the break and even adding a fourth score to grab the extra point.
Aaron Smith, Malakai Fekitoa, Ben Smith and Patrick Osborne crossed for the Highlanders, with scores from Peter Saili, Angus Ta'avao and Patrick Tuipulotu being unable to give the Blues a losing bonus point.
The hosts opened the scoring when Aaron Smith charged down Chris Noakes and had enough speed to veer his way into the corner, and shortly afterwards good work from Liam Coltman at the breakdown created a turnover for the Highlanders which centre Fekitoa turned into another try.
The Highlanders - Jarrad Hoeata and Brad Thorn especially - were ferocious in defence as the Blues failed to find a way through despite their best efforts.
Aaron Smith nearly created a third try with a fine burst as the Highlanders went for the jugular before the break, another turnover taking them to within range of the try-line again.
A few phases later Ben Smith appeared to take the pass from his namesake and dive through a gap for the Highlanders' third try. Lima Sopoaga had earlier kicked a penalty, meaning the hosts were 24-0 up at the break.
The Blues did grab a try back through Saili immediately after the interval but the Highlanders responded when Osborne crossed for the bonus-point score before 50 minutes were up on the clock.
Former rugby league star Benji Marshall entered the fray ahead of the final quarter as Taavao crashed over to narrow the scoreboard to 29-14 to give the Blues another glimmer of hope.
A third try from another replacement in Patrick Tuipulotu started to crank the pressure up on the hosts as Marshall's offload released Saili to start the attack.
That left the Highlanders with only an eight-point lead entering the final ten minutes, but they hung on to the win as Noakes missed a late penalty which would have secured a losing bonus point.