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Highlanders outmuscle Blues in Super Rugby

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 11/03/2017
Jerome Kaino of the Blues during the round three Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Highlanders. © Dave Rowland/Getty Images Jerome Kaino of the Blues during the round three Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Highlanders.

The Highlanders have picked up their first win of the Super Rugby campaign, defeating the Blues 16-12 in an Eden Park war of attrition.

Test centre Malakai Fekitoa's 18th-minute effort on the right edge was the only try in the four-point triumph, as both sides struggled in the Auckland wet.

Balls were dropped left, right and centre by both teams, while the Highlanders conceded 18 turnovers and the Blues gave up 23.

But the injury-ravaged Highlanders eventually ground out the win, relying on the kicking game of playmakers Lima Sopoaga and Aaron Smith to guide them home.

"It's just an awesome effort from the boys," skipper Elliot Dixon said.

"It was a good improvement from us. It was a nailbiter and a bit unfortunate a team had to lose but I'm glad we won it."

Blues winger Rene Ranger set the tone early for the all-Kiwi derby, smashing Fekitoa as the midfielder looked all but certain to score.

The Highlanders held all the territory in an erratic opening but couldn't trouble the scorers, bar a Sopoaga penalty goal.

Yet despite losing Waisake Naholo early with a leg issue, the Highlanders were able to engineer an opening try via Fekitoa and Marty Banks.

A wicked bounce of the ball evaded Ranger and fell into the arms of substitute Banks, who played Fekitoa in to score.

A pair of Ihaia West penalty goals reduced arrears for the Blues but neither side could string phases together in the wet, heading into the break at 10-6.

The second half was a mirror of the first, as both sides committed simple errors and couldn't generate attacking momentum.

Each side bagged a pair of penalty goals over the half as the Blues' George Moala, Augustine Pulu and Melani Nanai came close but to no avail.

The Tana Umaga-coached side then had one final chance to snatch victory but knocked on through Patrick Tuipulotu barely a metre from the line.

"We put ourselves in a position to win it," Blues co-captain James Parsons said in his first senior game since September.

"We were there or thereabouts but we just need to clinch those final moments."

The win comes at a cost for the Dunedin-based side, with regulars Naholo and Sopoaga joining an increasing injury list that includes Ben Smith and Liam Squire.

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