Dunedin saw the opening of the New Zealand Super Rugby campaign with a match that reaffirmed the appeal of the Kiwi sides’ beautiful rugby. While the Blues were strong in the first half and showed periods of brilliant attacking flare, it was the Highlanders day as their calmness and fitness prevailed in the last 20 minutes, seeing them secure a home win of 41-34.
The Rebels South African coach Dave Wessels got off to a winning start with a crushing 45-19 win against a Reds team reduced to 14 after just nine minutes. The visitors lost captain Scott Hingginbotham to a dangerous tackle.
The Reds were reduced to 13 players for 10 minutes in the first half when lock Lukhan Tui was also sin-binned.
Durban-born Dane Haylett-Petty scored two tries of the Rebels’s seven tries and flyhalf Jack Debreczeni got a brace and kicked five conversions for a 20-point total.
The match of the morning was undoubtedly in Dunedin.
Tries from Matt Duffie, Bryn Gatland and Akira Ioane in the first half saw the Blues head into half time with a 24-17 lead. Upon returning to the field the match continued in the same vain with a quick score from Highlanders’ Siati Tokalahi. However The Blues struck back just three minutes later and regained the lead with Akira Ioane scoring his second try of the match.
The game continued to flare with phases of attack and counter attack from both sides. The Highlanders, after managing to regain a draw at 31 all then stepped it up a notch for the final 20 minutes. Their rush defence troubled the blues and they were able to capitalise on forced errors and a disjointed defensive pattern and a try and penalty saw the Highlanders lead 41-34 with two minutes to play.
The Blues couldn’t get their hands on the ball for long enough to string attacking phases together and were reliant on counter attack from broken play in the final quarter as the Highlanders’ seemingly superior fitness began to show.
With the end score looking set at 41-34 at 79 minutes, The Blues then received a penalty, kicked to the corner and launched a final attacking attempt. Matt Duffie broke the line down the right wing but was held up just before the try line, seeing the game end 41-34 in favour of the Highlanders.
The game characterised New Zealand rugby and showed promise for a fantastic Super Rugby season. Key individuals performed and beautiful rugby was put on display. Hopefully the weekend continues in the same vain.