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Aaron Smith stars in Highlanders rugby win


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    A stand-out match from All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith has guided the Highlanders to a 41-34 win over the Blues in their Super Rugby season-opener in Dunedin.

    Smith’s intelligent kicking, sharp running and bullet passes proved pivotal as the Highlanders ran in five tries to the Blues’ four in Friday’s match at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

    The second-half sin-binning of Blues loose forward Antonio Kiri Kiri proved equally influential, with the Highlanders scoring twice in his absence to take a seven-point lead which they held to the end.

    A full-on start featured turnovers and line breaks in equal measure, the Highlanders opening the scoring with a Lima Sopoaga penalty in the 10th minute.

    The Blues responded five minutes later, Bryn Gatland crossing after a move which featured breaks first from Sonny Bill Williams then James Parsons.

    That triggered a series of tit-for-tat tries, the lead changing hands with each one.

    Highlanders centre Rob Thompson crossed for the first of his two in the 20th minute, only for Matt Duffie to hit back four minutes later down the short side after brilliant offloading from Williams and Rieko Ioane.

    Thompson grabbed his second as the half-hour mark approached, Smith wrapping around to create the space for the centre to crash through and give the home team a 17-14 lead.

    However, the Blues finished strongly, Akira Ioane striking with deadly effect from the back of an attacking scrum one minute from halftime, before Gatland’s stoppage-time penalty gave them a 24-17 lead at the break.

    The second half proved equally up tempo, the Highlanders levelling the scores just three minutes after the restart.

    Prop Siate Tokolahi barged over after Smith’s quick tap from a penalty gave the Highlanders some momentum, but the Blues hit back almost immediately through Akira Ioane to lead 31-24.

    The Highlanders took full advantage of Kiri Kiri’s 54th-minute yellow card for a high tackle on Sopoaga, inside centre Tei Walden crossing twice in four minutes.

    The Highlanders maintained their seven-point lead with an exchange of penalties, holding on despite intense pressure from the Blues until the final whistle.

    © AAP 2018

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • February 24th 2018 @ 6:01am
      Ben said | February 24th 2018 @ 6:01am | ! Report

      You could see the anxious looks on the Blues players faces once they fell behind.
      Theyve lost so many close one like this.
      Theyve got the goods but i question their mental toughness.
      When theyre ahead they play with confidence.
      As soon as they conceded those 2 tries after the yellow it was like the air went out of their ball and they went into their shells.
      As opposed to the ABs who believe they are never out of it and can win from anywhere i think the Blues are the opposite.
      Brynn Gatland summed the whole team up for me.
      1st half he was great, playing with confidence, taking the line on.
      2nd half after they fell behind… awol.

      Ive always liked that Rob Thompson. I can see a good future for him.
      Great to see Ben Smith back and up to speed. i thought all the ABs on show looked great which is unusual 1st game out.

      • February 24th 2018 @ 12:16pm
        mapu said | February 24th 2018 @ 12:16pm | ! Report

        agree the ab players were dominating

        • February 24th 2018 @ 5:33pm
          The Sheriff said | February 24th 2018 @ 5:33pm | ! Report

          Great game to watch.

    • February 24th 2018 @ 6:46am
      Taylorman said | February 24th 2018 @ 6:46am | ! Report

      Yes Blues another almost. Away result not too bad considering their past.

      Agree with the mental side if things. Still, great match and finally good to see it starting. Blues will have their moments this year.

      • Roar Guru

        February 24th 2018 @ 10:02am
        Fox Saker said | February 24th 2018 @ 10:02am | ! Report

        First game up they were very good Taylorman – Highlanders were pretty much at full strength – the Blues were missing some key players and Gatland had a great first half but is their 3rd choice fly half – so I think that was very good hit our and still got points. Shows they have depth a fly half this year though.

        Very promising for the Blues IMO and yep they will only get better.

        • February 24th 2018 @ 12:06pm
          Fionn said | February 24th 2018 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

          I don’t know how long he will stay third choice though. He was very good.

          • Roar Guru

            February 24th 2018 @ 1:18pm
            Fox Saker said | February 24th 2018 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

            Yeah I agree Fionn he looked good but his competition are very good as well.

            • February 24th 2018 @ 1:23pm
              Fionn said | February 24th 2018 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

              That’s fair. Still, good for the team for the third choice to be pushing for a spot in the 23, and means you’ll have good injury cover.

              Blues looked very good actually. Both teams did. I just think that at 9, 10 and 15 (three key positions) the Highlanders were better. Blues probably had more brute force power, but the Highlanders had more finesse. Aaron Smith is incredible.

      • February 24th 2018 @ 2:11pm
        Highlander said | February 24th 2018 @ 2:11pm | ! Report

        James Parsons was your best TM, Blues 8 were better than expected, very quick wide out too.
        Still not thinking Pulu is a good choice

    • February 24th 2018 @ 8:30am
      Old Bugger said | February 24th 2018 @ 8:30am | ! Report

      First NZ game and what a cracker. Congrats to both sides for showing an attacking intent but by the same token, neither side letting their defence, go awol. This was a game for us couch potatoes, to stir the old grey matter and let the heart-beats, go into overdrive. The set-piece plays were mind boggling from both sides and, I like the law changes with rucks and scrums……heck, its been a while to see a straight up scrum win against the feed, between hookers.

      Goldie had it right in his commentary – this match will be decided by tries and not penalties and the final try tally, told the story. A great start to the SR season and although a YC was issued, I agree with the commentators that it was more a failure of the tackler’s execution rather than anything, that could be deemed reckless or dangerous. Timely for the HLs but not so, for the Blues. Noone special stood out for me – every player gave their all IMO but if their needed to be a choice, then Nugget gets my vote. Good to see Bender back on the paddock.

      The Blues have set their marker and I’m pretty sure, it won’t be long before they hit a purple patch. Great game to open the NZ conference season.

    • February 24th 2018 @ 9:28am
      Mike Julz said | February 24th 2018 @ 9:28am | ! Report

      Rugby at its finest when its Nz teams playing. Hard luck Blues, the unfortunate yellow card cost us the game.
      If only that ball didn’t rolled to the sideline, Reiko would’ve scored. Gatland at 10 looks promising. But next time, discipline important, still not a bad game, but still game one in the long season, we can do better. #Uptheblues

    • Roar Guru

      February 24th 2018 @ 10:07am
      Fox Saker said | February 24th 2018 @ 10:07am | ! Report

      Aron Smith and Ben Smith had brilliant games and at last A.Smith has found his “best in the world” form. He was outstanding last night. Great runs- superb defence – pinpoint box kicking – and of course that trademark long very accurate bullet pass both sides of the ruck. Hansen will be smiling today that is for sure.

      The new ruck/maul laws suit his very game style game down to a tee.

      • February 24th 2018 @ 12:01pm
        Mmmmm..k said | February 24th 2018 @ 12:01pm | ! Report

        SBW was also excellent.
        Made metres when he tried, he threw excellent short and long passes and was solid in defence as always.

        As has been said, the Blues body language when falling behind was not good. They need a bit of Brad Thorns “what an opportunity” attitude when things go pear shaped.

        • Roar Guru

          February 24th 2018 @ 1:22pm
          Fox Saker said | February 24th 2018 @ 1:22pm | ! Report

          Totally agree Hmmmm…k SBW was excellent carrying ion his form from the Euro AB Tour.

          But yeah they need to find a way when down to 14 men but the new laws and the attacking side on the ight side of the ruck penalties big time and with less being committed to the ruck makes defending with one less man more problematic IMO…the Red’s found that out as well.

          It more difficult to pilfer the ball now.

        • February 24th 2018 @ 1:24pm
          DanFan said | February 24th 2018 @ 1:24pm | ! Report

          Like the Reds?

          • February 24th 2018 @ 2:11pm
            Mmmmm..k said | February 24th 2018 @ 2:11pm | ! Report

            Like Brad Thorn

          • Roar Guru

            February 24th 2018 @ 5:02pm
            Fox Saker said | February 24th 2018 @ 5:02pm | ! Report

            Yes Reds -too fast on the keyboard there before I realized oops

        • February 24th 2018 @ 2:10pm
          Highlander said | February 24th 2018 @ 2:10pm | ! Report

          When your two opposites score four tries between them you have not had a good game defensively.

          Mauger made a great choice with Walden/Thomson in our midfield and SBW/Moala, two internationals, came a big second.

          • February 24th 2018 @ 2:15pm
            Mmmmm..k said | February 24th 2018 @ 2:15pm | ! Report

            No, that’s wrong.
            If you miss tackles and have made “bad reads” in defense you’ve had a poor game defensively.

            That’s how it works.

            Not, “well he’s wearing the same number as you and he’s on the opposite team so your the only one who ever defends against him”.

            That’s not how it works at all.

            • February 24th 2018 @ 2:25pm
              Highlander said | February 24th 2018 @ 2:25pm | ! Report

              Certainly is, Highlanders select3d two guys to close down SBW and Moala, tick.
              We attacked the middle of the park all night, scored four from it, tick.

              All very nicely planned and executed. Even dropped a centre who scored a hatrick against the Crusaders in last weeks trial to implement.

          • February 24th 2018 @ 2:20pm
            Mmmmm..k said | February 24th 2018 @ 2:20pm | ! Report

            SBW didn’t miss a tackle or make a poor read on defense.

            But that’s a poor game defensively?

            No, it’s a good game in defense.

            • February 24th 2018 @ 3:38pm
              Highlander said | February 24th 2018 @ 3:38pm | ! Report

              Highlanders midfielders constantly swapped sides behind the ruck and caught out SBW and Moala.
              Watch Thompson’s big midfield break for a try and watch SBW, moves waaay too late, probably the most obvious example.

              To varying degrees that is where all the Highlanders try’s came from.
              Isolated slower players to attack by getting the Blues centres out of position, was really clever.
              Completely out thought.

              • Roar Guru

                February 24th 2018 @ 4:23pm
                Fox Saker said | February 24th 2018 @ 4:23pm | ! Report

                The lead changed so may times Highlander I don’t think you can say the Blues were completely out thought throughout the game. The Highlanders were better at 9 all game and 10 in the second half with Smith back to his very best.

              • February 24th 2018 @ 5:20pm
                Mmmmm..k said | February 24th 2018 @ 5:20pm | ! Report


                SBW was never going to catch him and he isn’t supposed to be a sweeper that chases up on others lapses on defense.
                Your example is a bit ridiculous tbh.

                The Highlanders didn’t catch out SBW. They played well but centres don’t follow their opposites around and only tackle their opposites. They actually only tackle their opposites once or twice a game usually.

                SBW had a great game defensively, he didn’t make a bad read and made all his tackles.
                His passing was exceptional and he broke the line.

                However, when others made a bad read and SBW had no chance of stopping the try he didn’t.
                So yeah, SBW played badly.

    • February 24th 2018 @ 10:29am
      puff said | February 24th 2018 @ 10:29am | ! Report

      Talk about a tale of two cities. The Forsyth Bar Stadium contest was high octane, skillful, unforgiving and displayed the qualities that NZ teams intend to deliver. The Reds / Rebels match delivered the same old dribble, yes the teams were passionate but nothing appears to have changed including the commentators who didn’t appear to be fully with the program and made comments not aligned to the new rules. As a Rebels supporter there was little to be excited about, perhaps it’s still early days.

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