You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.
In what was a barnstormer of a game in which there were seven changes of lead, the Highlanders ran out 41-34 winners over the Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin last night.
The Highlanders played some great footy at times and scored some quality tries in a match that had plenty of vigour and pace.
There were 75 points scored - the Blues led 24-17 at the break - and a total of nine tries as both sides threw the ball around.
For the first game of the season things looked very fluent in attack.
The Highlanders, who retained the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy for another year with the win, pulled clear in the middle of the second half when second five-eighth Tei Walden scored two tries within five minutes.
That changed the Highlanders from seven points down to going ahead by a converted try, and they managed to hold on against a Blues side that had some aces up its sleeve.
The Highlanders got the ball inside the Blues half with five minutes left and though the visitors had a late sniff, it was the home team that prevailed.
The Blues lost replacement loose forward Antonio Kiri Kiri to a debatable yellow card for a high tackle about 10 minutes into the second half. Walden scored his two tries in that time, so it undoubtedly had an impact on the match.
But the Highlanders deserved the win, the side's first win in the opening game of the season since 2014.
Ben Smith was back to his best and did everything well and winger Waisake Naholo was also great. The midfield was first-rate, while up front, the Highlanders never stood back.
Best for the Blues were the Ioane brothers, and hooker James Parsons was busy throughout.
The Blues were the first to get a try on the board, courtesy of a nice step from first five-eighth Bryn Gatland.
After some tricky in-passing by the Blues forwards, the ball came to Gatland, who stepped inside the defence to stroll over.
The Highlanders, though, came straight back and scored through centre Rob Thompson.
The pack drove for the line and when held up, the ball was shifted wide and a nice ball from Lima Sopoaga put Thompson over.
It was not long before the Blues came back and returned to the lead. A nice move down the right and quick hands meant the ball ended up in the hands of Matt Duffie and the All Black winger strolled 30m untouched for the try.
The Highlanders were giving the ball plenty of air and Thompson came in with a cracking try.
A clever move had a short ball - from lock Tom Franklin, of all people - into the hands of Thompson and the Manawatu man scampered 45m to dive over.
The home team, though, could not hang on until halftime as Blues No8 Akira Ioane strolled over from a 5m scrum.
Gatland added a penalty to put his side seven points ahead at the break.