Match Centre: Super Rugby Pacific: Highlanders 29-37 Blues

Stephen Perofeta kicked 12 points for Blues
Stephen Perofeta kicked 12 points for Blues

Highlanders 29-37 Blues, AAMI Park

Blues have maintained their perfect start in the ongoing Super Rugby Pacific competition as they defeated Highlanders 37-29 in the second round of the Super Rugby Pacific at AAMI Park on Friday.

Blues now have two wins from as many games as they are at the top of the table with nine points while Highlanders are at fifth place with five points.

It took two minutes for the home side to open their account as Folau Fakatava sends a long pass allowing Sean Withy to touchdown but the conversion from Sam Gilbert went wide making it 5-0.

The Blues responded back almost immediately as Akira Ioane and Laghlan McWhannell combine to put pressure on Highlanders with eventually Hoskins Sotutu went over for the first of his three tries. Stephen Perofeta's conversion drifted wide as the scores were levelled.

Blues suffered a setback as lock Sam Darry left the field with a knee injury in the 8th minute but the home side seized the lead as Rhys Patchell showed his magic as he breached the defence of the visitors to feed Jona Nareki, who in turn allowed Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens to touchdown. Gilbert's conversion once again drifted wide as the scoreline became 10-5.

Just at the end of the opening quarter, Perofeta landed a 25m penalty goal to bring the gap down to two points before Patchell collected a grubber kick from Fakatava and once again Gilbert's conversion drifted wide making it 15-8. Patchell missed a penalty chance though in the 34th minute before the visitors managed to level the scores with Taufa Funaki received an offload from Sotutu to crossover.

Highlanders continued to lose momentum at the stroke of half time as fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens was sin-binned for an offside infringement and Tanielu Tele'a dived over for the third try for the Blues as they completed the opening half with a 15-22 lead.

Blues extended the lead early in the second half as Josh Fusitua came close to scoring but was stopped 5m before the line with eventually Sotutu completing his second try and Perofeta followed with the conversion and a penalty goal to make it 15-32. The gap between the teams came down to 10 points as Timoci Tavatavanawai went wide but his effort was cancelled out with Sotutu completing his hat-trick in the 68th minute to make it 22-37.

The closing stage of the game saw Sam Nock sin-binned for a cynical foul and Ajay Faleafaga dived over but that could not stop as Blues completed an eight point victory.

Team line up:

Highlanders: 1-Ethan de Groot, 2-Henry Bell, 3-Jermaine Ainsley, 4- Pari Pari Parkinson, 5-Max Hicks, 6-Sean Withy, 7-Billy Harmon (C), 8-Hugh Renton, 9-Folau Fakatava, 10-Rhys Patchell, 11-Jona Nareki, 12-Sam Gilbert, 13-Tanielu Tele'a, 14-Timoci Tavatavanawai, 15-Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens

Reserves: 16. Ricky Jackson, 17. Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18. Saula Ma'u, 19. Fabian Holland, 20. Nikora Broughton, 21. Nathan Hastie, 22. Ajay Faleafaga, 23. Jonah Lowe

Blues: 1-Ofa Tu'ungafasi 2-Ricky Riccitelli, 3-Marcel Renata, 4-Laghlan McWhannell, 5-Sam Darry, 6-Akira Ioane, 7-Dalton Papali'i (c), 8-Hoskins Sotutu, 9-Taufa Funaki, 10-Stephen Perofeta, 11-Caleb Clarke, 12-Bruce Heem, 13-AJ Lam, 14-Mark Tele'a, 15-Zarn Sullivan

Reserves: 16-Soane Vikena, 17-Joshua Fusitu'a, 18-Angus Ta'avao, 19-Josh Beehre, 20-Adrian Choat, 21-Sam Nock, 22-Harry Plummer, 23-Cole Forbes