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'Who doesn't kick that out?' Stunning play turns match for Blues as forgotten All Blacks star says 'pick me'

1st March, 2024
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1st March, 2024
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A piece of individual magic from Stephen Perofeta and a Hoskins Sotutu hat-trick has seen the Blues overcome a gritty Highlanders team 37-29 in Melbourne.

The crucial moment in the game came on the stroke of half time, as the Highlanders’ Test prop Ethan de Groot lost the ball in contact on the Blues’ line.

Rather than kick the ball out to end the half, Perofeta, who has been in the shadow of Beauden Barrett in recent years, opted to run the ball. It worked.

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Perofeta broke away and linked up with his slippery winger Mark Telea, as the Blues turned defence into attack and forced the Highlanders’ fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens to infringe. It proved costly, with the fullback sent to the sin bin.

“How many teams in the world of rugby don’t just kick that out? Who doesn’t kick that out?” former Wallaby turned Stan Sport pundit Morgan Turinui said.

“The awareness,” former Highlanders forward Joe Wheeler said.

“You think he’d just kick that out over the dead ball wouldn’t you and go into the half, and then they’ve gone 80 metres. Unbelievable. Great play.”

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Stephen Perofeta turned the match in the Blues’ favour after a huge linebreak on his own goal line against the Highlanders at AAMI Park, on March 01, 2024, in Melbourne. (Photo by Daniel Pockett/Getty Images)

Moments later Telea dived over from a ruck to score and a possible deficit turned in a 22-15 lead at half-time.

Within two minutes of the second half the Blues had another, as Telea once again put the Blues on the attack after taking a high ball.

With all the momentum, Hoskins had his second and the Blues were on their way to consecutive victories to start the year.

“What I liked about that is the way we stuck in it,” stand-in Blues skipper Dalton Papalii said.

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“We didn’t have the best start but I knew the boys would play the full 80. It’s about consistently getting that on a good level, but I can’t be prouder of the boys coming back.”

Hoskins, the All Blacks No.8 who fell off the radar last year under Joe Schmidt, was brilliant on both sides of the ball with new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson sitting alongside his right-hand man Jason Ryan in the stands.

Morgan Turinui: “With Scott Robertson up in the stands, he’s saying ‘pick me’.”

Early on though and looked like the Highlanders could pull off a boil over. If only Sam Gilbert had brought his kicking boots.

Backrower Sean Withy crossed early after the Blues dropped it from the kick off, but Gilbert’s effort from the touchline just was pulled across the goal posts.

While Sotutu hit back quickly, Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens returned serve as he finished off a superb try that came from a Rhys Patchell wonder-ball flick pass offload that was straight out of the Finn Russell playbook.

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The Blues shaved a few points off when Perofeta banged over a simple penalty, before Patchell did it himself by pouncing on a clever kick from Folau Fakatava.

Once again though the Blues responded 10 minutes later through Taufa Funaki, as Perofeta’s conversion levelled up the score.

Telea’s try on the stroke of half-time swung the match heavily in the Blues’ favour in a huge 14-point swing as Vern Cotter’s men scored 17 straight points to seize the advantage.

The Highlanders scored two of the last three tries, including in the final minute to Ajay Faleafaga, but the Blues claimed an important eight-point win.

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