Blues deny Highlanders
The Blues had to rely on a last-minute Baden Kerr penalty to edge the Highlanders 31-29 in their Super Rugby pre-season clash.
The home team did well to fight their way back after trailing 28-12 before the break, and looked to have pulled off a sensational come-from-behind victory.
However, the Highlanders forwards gave away a penalty 35m out from their line which allowed Kerr to step up and slot over the match-winning penalty.
The Blues raced into an early 14-0 lead thanks to tries from lock Culum Retallick and wing George Moala - both converted by halfback Piri Weepu, who also bagged a try to cap off a fine first-half display.
The Highlanders hit back with tries to Jarrad Hoeata, Joe Wheeler and captain Hosea Gear to keep the hosts in touch at half-time (28-19).
Two more touchdowns from Gear with 20 minutes remaining gave the Highlanders a 29-28 lead, before Kerr's decisive penalty silenced the home crowd.
Rubbing further salt to the Highlanders' wounds was the potential loss of lock Josh Bekhuis (back) and replacement loose forward Hugh Blake (dislocated shoulder), who both left the field with injuries.
Tries: Gear 3, Hoeata, Wheeler
Cons: Parker 2
Tries: Retallick, Moala, McCartney, Weepu
Cons: Weepu 4
Highlanders: 15 Buxton Popoalii, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear (captain), 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Ma'afu Fia, 3 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements - from: Jason Emery, Fumiaki Tanaka, Shaun Treeby, Trent Renata, Frae Wilson, Hugh Blake, Tim Boys, Liam Coltman, Tom Franklin, Paul Grant, Chris King, Jamie Mackintosh, Bronson Murray.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (captain), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements - from: Quentin MacDonald, Angus Ta'avao, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Liaki Moli, Ronald Raaymakers, Sean Polwart, Kane Barrett, Joe Edwards, Bryn Hall, Jackson Willison, Baden Kerr, Marty McKenzie, Pita Ahki.
Referee: Chris Pollock