Blues 12 Highlanders 16

As the clock ticked down on this festival of errors at Eden Park, it became increasingly likely that one rare piece of quality by either the Blues or Highlanders would likely result in victory.

It was that sort of match, one which bucked the received wisdom that the New Zealand derbies are the only things saving this competition. This was ugly. A stinker - a match summed up best in the first half by Rene Ranger's kick to himself on his own line - an unorthodox option to say the least - the ball finding its way to Highlander Lima Sopoaga who fashioned a cross kick to his left wing Tevita Li which instead went through the posts, on the full, and over the dead ball line.

In the end, the only quality required was one of resilience from the Highlanders, who tackled their hearts out in a frantic final minute.

It took that long for the game to ignite. Before that the ball was routinely dropped and neither team was overly inclined to build phases.


Many in the Blues crowd, who earlier welcomed their team on to the pitch for the first time this season with a fair bit of excitement, were pleading for their team to hold the ball, to, as one man said plaintively, "please play some rugby".

It was hard to fathom why, 24 hours earlier down the road at Waikato Stadium, the Chiefs and Hurricanes had played with such distinction in appalling conditions, but part of it might have been related to what was at stake here for both teams.

The Highlanders, especially, were under extreme pressure to score their first win of the season after defeats to the Chiefs and Crusaders at home, and the Blues, back at home at last, were perhaps overly eager to right the wrongs of their defeat in Hamilton last weekend.

Tana Umaga might have been reasonably confident that that late intervention might have occurred via his reserves bench, which was of relatively high quality, and certainly better than the visitors'.

But Piers Francis, who replaced out-of-sorts first-five Ihaia West, couldn't quite get them over the line, and neither could loose forward Akira Ioane, although he went close with a carry near the posts.

There was one piece of late attacking quality, and it came from a Francis pass to George Moala, the big Blues midfielder nearly running in from near halfway but for a tackle on the tryline by Lima Sopoaga, who suffered a leg injury while chasing him down.

The chance was lost when Moala attempted to pass to replacement Melani Nanai, virtually the first time he had passed all night, but it flicked a switch for the home side, who appeared to realise, finally, that holding on to the ball and building pressure might in fact be helpful to their cause.

The Blues had the firepower to get home, including a willing halfback Augustine Pulu who was increasingly dangerous on the carry. But what a shame for them that the likes of midfielder Rieko Ioane or big brother Akira didn't get the ball in their hands enough.


This was a big chance lost for the Blues. For the Highlanders, who showed a fair bit of starch in those final moments, it might just be the start of something.