Blues beat Highlanders 33-26 in Super Rugby

AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Winger Rieko Ioane scored two tries, bringing his tally to six from his last two games, as the Auckland-based Blues ended a 20-match losing streak against New Zealand opponents, beating the Dunedin-based Highlanders 33-26 in Super Rugby.

Lock Patrick Tuipulotu barged over the line in the 74th minute and flyhalf Otere Black added a 78th minute penalty as the Blues came from behind in a match of seven lead changes to snatch their first win over a New Zealand conference rival since 2016.

Highlanders flyhalf Marty Banks kicked a penalty — his sixth goal from as many attempts — to put the Highlanders ahead 26-23 with 16 minutes left. But the Blues finished more strongly and with more luck.

Highlanders and All Blacks winger Waisake Naholo was sinbinned in the 68th minute for a dangerous tackle and the Blues took full advantage of an extra man to construct the winning try for Tuipulotu.

"It's awesome, it's good for our confidence," Blues captain Blake Gibson said. "We haven't beaten a New Zealand team in a while so it's good to get that monkey off our back.

"I thought our backs were awesome tonight and we managed to score a few nice tries out there."

Ioane picked up two of those tries to follow the four he scored last week in a win over Japan's Sunwolves and lifting his tally for the season to 10.

In a see-sawing match Ioane scored his first in the 10th minute, stepping past his opposite Naholo in a 50-meter dash to the line.

After the Highlanders retrieved the lead with a try to backrower Luke Whitelock, Ioane scored again in the 32nd minute, helping the Blues to a 15-13 lead at the break.

The lead changed hands twice with an exchange of penalties after halftime before Tevita Li scored to give the Highlanders a 23-18 lead.

The Blues struck back with a brilliant try to fullback Melani Nanai, tying the scores at 23-23 before Banks nudged the Highlanders ahead again with his final goal.

The Blues were able to dominate the final exchanges with Naholo in the sin-bin, scoring first through Tuipulotu, then sealing their win with Black's penalty.

"It was tough, we knew it was going to come down to the key moments and I thought the Blues took them near the end of the game more than we did so we'll learn from that," Highlanders captain Ben Smith said.


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