The Highlanders lost their sixth straight match of the season against the Blues in Auckland tonight. A rejuvenated attack in the opening half got the visitors off to a good start, although a number of handling errors and a run of unfortunate injuries in the second spell let the Blues take control of the match and eventually take the win 29-18.
 
Colin Slade put the visitors on the board early, with a penalty inside the opening 2 minutes. Ben Smith extending the lead minutes later with a well worked try, stretching out his arm to put the ball down on the line. Slade added the conversion to bring the score out to 10-0.
 
Ma’a Nonu received a yellow card nearing the end of the first quarter for a shoulder charge on Piri Weepu, referee Steve Walsh initially elected to let him off with only a warning, however soon after he changed his decision to send Nonu to the sideline. The Blues made quick use of the one player advantage, with Flanker Steve Luatua running over in the corner for their opening try.
 
The Blues closed the gap to just 1 point with 30 minutes nearing on the clock, Prop Angus Ta’avau helping himself to a try. Former Highlander Chris Noakes, landed the conversion to put the Blues ahead 12-10.
 
Colin Slade kicked another penalty, just moments out from halftime, to edge the Highlanders back into the lead 13-12.
 
The Blues went down to 14 men early in the second half when George Moala was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Buxton Popoalii which led to Popoalii eventually having to be stretchered off the field.
 
The Highlanders looked to make the most of their advantage, dominating in territory and possession statistics but could not drive home their advantage. Piri Weepu ran in for his first of two tries for the game, although a questionable pass had to be reviewed before the try was awarded. Noakes adding the extras to give the Blues a 19-13 lead.
 
Japanese international Fumiaki Tanaka come on in the last quarter with an immediate impact. Tanaka made a neat break from a pick and go, passing to Phil Burleigh while going to ground in a tackle. Burleigh then showed his strength in the tackle of Noakes, holding him off enough to dot down for a try and bring them back within 1 point of the Blues.
 
Noakes pushed the Blues ahead again with a penalty, followed moments later with Piri Weepu’s second try of the match, again needing to be referred to the TMO before being awarded. Baden Kerr, who came on to replace Noakes at first-five, kicked the conversion to put the Blues out to 29-18 with 10 minutes to go.
 
The Highlanders had their chances to close the match up near the end, spending lengthy periods in the Blues 22 metres though in the end they struggled to find a gap in a determined Blues defence, denied the win and also denied a bonus point for their efforts.
 
Blues - 29 (Steve Luatua, Angus Ta’avau, Piri Weepu (2) tries; Chris Noakes (2), Baden Kerr conversions; Noakes penalties)
 
Highlanders - 18 (Ben Smith, Phil Burleigh tries; Colin Slade conversion; Slade (2) penalties)

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