Super Rugby opened with a bang on Friday night in Auckland and the Highlanders were unable to complete a last ditch attempt to steal the win from a renewed Blues team. 
 
The game opened with a hiss and a roar and posession see-sawed between the two teams, Ihaia West unable to captialise on an early penalty in front of the sticks. Ben Smith scores the opener, slamming the ball on the try line after a great run up the middle from new Highlander, Liam Squire. Lima Sopoaga adds the extra two points and Highlanders lead 7-0 after 10miniutes. The Blues found their reply on the 20th minute with a long distance try to Melani Nanai who was on the receiving end of a kick-pass from West, West converts and the score evens out at 7-all. Highlanders strike back through a Sopoaga penalty which is quickly followed by a try to the Blues with Blake Gibson crashing through the defensive line, West successfully converts. 
 
The tries keep coming as Teihorangi Walden goes over for a 5-pointer on debut, following quick hands through the backline. Sopoaga converts and the score is all tied up again at 17-all. West adds three points after a Highlanders infringement at the breakdown, 20-17 to the Blues, but that doesn't last long as some Aaron Smith and Waisake Naholo magic result in a great try right on the halftime whistle. Sopaga successfully converts and the Highlanders lead the Blues 24-20 at the halftime break. 
 
The second half descended into an arm wrestle as both sides crashed and bashed for little reward. Ihaia West slotted two penalty goals to nudge the Blues ahead at the three-quarter mark. The Highlanders were then called upon to defend for an extended period of time as the home side held the ball for multiple phases before Blue's lock Patrick Tuipulotu crashed over the line to score. The Highlanders swung back onto attack and scored a miracle try to Ben Smith in the 79th minute followed by an outstanding kick from the sideline by replacement first-five, Hayden Parker, but the clock ran out and the two point deficit proved two points too many. Plenty of positives to take from this match as we look to next week's home game against the Hurricanes.
 
HALFTIME: HIG 24 - BLU 20
 
FULLTIME: HIG 31 - BLU 33
 
 

BLUES

Tries – M.Nanai, B. Gibson, P. Tuipulotu

Pen – I West 4

Con – I.West 3

 

HIGHLANDERS

Tries – B.Smith 2, T. Walden, W.Naholo

Pen – L.Sopoaga, 

Con -L.Sopoaga 3, Parker 

Cards – P.Osborne (70th min yellow)

 

A packed Forsyth Barr Stadium were treated to a nail biting game of rugby to open the Highlanders 2016 home season on Saturday night. After a furious and fast-paced opening five minutes of play, it was the Hurricanes that opened the scoring through a Beauden Barrett penalty goal. The Highlanders struck back almost instantly through a try to Malakai Fekitoa with a tackle-bursting run. Lima Sopoaga couldn't convert but managed to slot a penalty goal soon after to and Barrett and Sopoaga continued to trade penalty goals to see the half out and the Highlanders leading 11-6 on the halftime whistle.
 

The second half continued in the same way as the first, a tight tussle between two great teams. Sopoaga opened the scoring back up in the second half with a penalty goal only to have stand-in Hurricanes Captain TJ Perenara cross the for the first try following a series of pick-and-go's close to our line. Barrett pushed the Hurricanes into the lead with a penalty at the 60th minute mark and then in a never before seen series of events lead the Highlanders to be denyed two tries by the TMO one after the other before the Kurow Kid, Hayden Parker, replacement first-five slotted a clutch penalty to edge the Highlanders into a one-point lead which they held onto until the final whistle. 

And the crowd collectively breathed a sigh of releif - what a game! What a crowd, see you all back here next week for Highlanders v Lions. 

HALFTIME: HIG 11 - HUR 6

FULLTIME: HIG 17 - HUR 16
 
 

HIGHLANDERS

Tries – M Fekitoa

Pen – L Sopoaga (3), Parker

 

HURRICANES

Tries – TJ Perenara

Pen – B Barrett (3)

Cons - B Barrett

Tonight was certainly a game of two halves. The Highlanders had an exceptional first hald and led the Lions 20-3 going into the shed at halftime. There was a clear attacking game plan from the first whistle from both teams and the home side opened the scoring with a penalty to Marnitz Boshoff. The Highlanders struck back through the trustworthy boot of Lima Sopoaga who picked up a penalty and a drop goal. That was followed up with a well constructed try to Gareth Evans as the ball was shifted across the front of the Lions try line. Malakai Fekitoa finished the half with one of his trademark tries as he bust up the middle of the field for a 60 metre try leaving sprawling Lions defenders in his wake.

Unfortunately the Highlanders couldn't maintain the pace they set in the first half, whether it was the travel or playing at altitude, they appeared to run out of steam in the second half. The Lions struck not long after returning back to the field with a well constructed try to winger Courtnall Skosan to close the deficit. The Highlanders replied with surprise drop goal from Ben Smith under penalty advantage but that was soon followed up with a driving maul that ended in a try to the Lions bringing the game within 6 points and it wasn't long before the homeside went over for their third to bring the game within a single point. With 10minutes left on the clock the Lions slotted two penalties to complete their stunning comeback and took the game 28-23.

HALF TIME: LIO 3 - HIG 20

FULL TIME: LIO 28 - HIG 23

Lions
Tries - Skosan, Kriel, Vorster
Pen - Jantjies 2, Boshoff
Con - Jantjies 2

Highlanders
Tries - Evans, Fekitoa
Pen - L.Sopoaga
Con - L.Sopoaga 2
Drop - L.Sopoaga, B.Smith

 

The Highlanders started well with Gareth Evans going over for a try early on after a patient build up from the forwards. After pinning the Sharks down in their own half for an extended period of time Lima Sopoaga knocked over a penalty, with 20 minutes remaining in the half the Sharks replied with a penalty of their own and try to  which was followed up with a try to Mtawarira. With less than 10 miniutes to go in the first the scores were level 10-all. The Highlanders then scored two brilliantly constructed tries to the Fijian Flyers, Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osborne with Sopoaga continuing with his magic boot and 100% kicking to go into the sheds with a 24-10 lead over the Sharks. 
 
The half started with the South Africans on the charge, but the home side defense held strong against the Sharks forwards dominated attack phases. Mark Reddish brought up the Highlanders' bonus point try by diving on a loose ball from a lineout close on the Sharks line and soon after the Highlander's were back on the counter attack, Aaron Smith crossed over the line for another 5-pointer. The Highlander's weren't finished there and picked up a 6th try to Brendon Edmonds following a series of brilliant offloads and running rugby by a mixture of forwards and backs. The Sharks picked up a late consolation with Springbok hooker, Bismark Du Plessis, going over the line off the back of a driving maul only for Elliot Dixon to put an exclamation mark on the victory with a try of his own, burrowing over with help from two of his fellow forwards. A massive effort on attack and defense from the home side for the whole 80 minutes. Our forward pack more than matched their much vaunted opposition and our backs proved too hot to handle. 

HALF TIME: HIG 24 - SHA 10 

FULL TIME: HIG 48 - SHA 15 

Highlanders
Tries - G.Evans, W.Naholo, P. Osborne, M.Reddish, A.Smith, B. Edmonds, E.Dixon
Pen - L.Sopoaga
Con - L.Sopoaga 5

Sharks
Tries - T.Mtawarira, B.du Plessis
Pen - F.Zeilinga
Con - F.Zeilinga

Lima Sopoaga opened the scoring early with a penalty goal setting the tone for the first half, Malakai Fekitoa dotted down over the try line no long after in a try that was set up by winger to watch, Waisake Naholo. After playing the provider, Naholo then went over for his own 5-pointer when he fought through the attentions of three defenders to score what seemed an impossible try. Sopoaga doing his part by converting both tries to put the home side in front 17-0. The Highlanders were then called on to defend as the Blues camped themselves in our 22 looking to peg back the deficit but the visitors could not break the line and when the Highlanders swung back onto attack, Fekitoa went over for our third and his second of the night, proving too hard to stop from close. Sopoaga successfully converting and pushing the lead out to 24-0 going into the halftime break. 

It was Lima Sopoaga's unnerving boot that proved the difference tonight as the Blues came out a different beast in the second half, re-enetering the game with a clear intention. They scored two quick tries through the forwards with the honours going to Moala and Tuipulotu. The Highlanders were then reduced to 14 men after Joe Wheeler was shown yellow for a dangerous tackle. The additional man contributed to the Blues going over for their third try of the half through Keven Mealamu and give the visitors 17 unanswered points for the half and reducing the deficit to 24-17. The Highlanders replied with two penalties to Sopoaga but the Blues were not finished and got a bonus point try and Mealamu a double with minutes left on the clock  The visitors finished the 80-minutes hard on attack and it took a turnover from Sopoaga to finish the game, keeping the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy in Dunedin for another year. What a heart stopper! HALF TIME: HIG 24 - BLU 0 

FULL TIME: HIG 30 - BLU 24 

Highlanders
Tries - M.Fekitoa 2, W.Naholo
Pen - L.Sopoaga 3
Con - L.Sopoaga 3
Cards - J.Wheeler (yellow 56th min)

Blues
Tries - G.Moala, P.Tuipulotu, K.Mealamu 2
Con - D.Bowden, I.West