Rugby: Blues win patchy encounter

Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith fires off a pass during his team's Super 15 pre-season match against the Blues at the Queenstown Recreation Ground yesterday. Photo by Getty Images.
Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith fires off a pass during his team's Super 15 pre-season match against the Blues at the Queenstown Recreation Ground yesterday. Photo by Getty Images.
If there was a template for a pre-season match then this was it.

Plenty of ball movement, a lot of errors and not much combination.

In what was not a great game of rugby, the Blues managed to pip the Highlanders 31-29 in Queenstown, kicking a penalty to win the game in the final minute of the match.

The Highlanders came out half asleep in the opening 40 minutes and were somewhat fortunate to still be in the game at the break, down 28-19.

Slowly in the second half, the home side warmed to its work and went ahead when Hosea Gear scored his third try within 15 minutes and it looked as though the Highlanders would get home.

But Baden Kerr managed to knock over a penalty in the final minute to give the Blues a victory.

The Highlanders were patchy throughout and failed to find much space against a rugged Blues defence. They had little ball in the first half and found it tough to get in behind the Blues defence.

They lacked the ability to recycle the ball quickly and too often the ball went across the field, rather than up the middle.

Another worry was the lineout which, for the second week in a row, was too inaccurate, costing the Highlanders some prime attacking chances.

The scrum was a mess from both sides, and the breakdown was a mess, as teams took a loose interpretation of the offside line.

Gear, Highlanders skipper for the day, helped himself to three tries, though only one of required him to show a clean pair of heels.

With the other two he resembled a tight forward, barrelling his way over in the tightest of spaces.

Flanker Joe Wheeler scored a nice try and got through some work, while Nasi Manu resembled a runaway train at times.

For the Blues, centre Rene Ranger looked good in the half he was on the field, while flanker Luke Braid got through some work.

Big prop Charlie Faumuina was solid, as was skipper Ali Williams.

The Blues came out with all pace and precision and were two tries up in eight minutes and the Highlanders had barely touched the ball.

Former Highlanders lock Culum Retallick immediately got one over his old team with a try after just five minutes and the Highlanders then had Manu rather harshly yellow-carded for a breakdown offence.

In their first concentrated attack, the Highlanders held on to the ball for a few phases, a long Aaron Smith pass found Jarad Hoeata out wide and he went over in the corner.

More tries came in a free-flowing first half, when the Blues found some gaps in the Highlanders defence, especially in the midfield.

The Melbourne Rebels beat the Western Force 30-23 in Melbourne last night. The Force led 11-10 at halftime.


Super 15
Pre-season
Blues ... 31

Culum Retallick, George Moala, Tom McCartney, Piri Weepu tries, Weepu 4 cons; Baden Kerr pen

Highlanders ... 29
Hosea Gear 3, Jarrad Hoeata, Joe Wheeler tries; Hayden Parker 2 cons

Halftime: 28-19
Crowd: 4000