Super Rugby Aotearoa: Blues keep title hopes alive with bonus-point win over Highlanders

Two tries from halfback Finlay Christie have helped the Blues keep their Super Rugby Aotearoa hopes alive with a 32-21 victory over the Highlanders.

Trailling 16-13 after half an hour, the visitors needed tries from TJ Faiane and Ofa Tuungafasi to restore some control over the contest, with Christie's second try putting them beyond reach as time wound down.

The Aucklanders had to survive a stern examination over the closing 10 minutes, as the southerners desperately tried to bridge the gap. Down to 14 men, the Blues finally conceded a consolation try to Shannon Frizell in the dying moments, but held on to claim the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy and their first win under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

The Blues' last win in Dunedin came at Carisbrook in 2011.

They seemed well in control, after Akira Ioane and Christie scored within the opening 10 minutes.

With Hoskins Sotutu still missing through injury, Ioane stormed off the back of an attacking scrum, bobbling the ball, but trampling over the top of defender Scott Gregory.

Christie's first try came from Beauden Barrett's cross-kick for winger Caleb Clarke, who gathered and found Rieko Ioane in support. The ginger halfback was lurking for an offload and a straight run to the line. 

But ill discipline kept the Highlanders in contact, with two Josh Ioane penalties and a converted Ash Dixon try edging the home side ahead. 

Patrick Tuipulotu in action for the Blues
Patrick Tuipulotu in action for the Blues. Photo credit: Photosport

Ioane's second penalty could easily have been another Blues try, after Dalton Papalii intercepted a Highlanders pass and galloped 75m to touch down under the crossbar.

But referee Mike Fraser reviewed the build-up, and ruled prop Karl Tuinukuafe was lying offside and impeded Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith. No try, penalty in front of the post for the Highlanders.

Ultimately, the Blues didn't need it, with Clarke and Christie combining again to put Faiane over, then Tuungafasi powering over from a forward assault.

Christie began the movement that led to his second try, delivering quality ball from a counter-ruck turnover and running a diagonal line across the field to receive Clarke's pass to score.

The result has the Blues just two competition points behind the Crusaders, but they now take a bye, before hosting the leaders in the Super Rugby Aotearoa finale on August 16.

The Crusaders can clinch the title with victory over the Highlanders next week. If they lose, the Blues - or Hurricanes - can still take out the revamped post-coronavirus format.

Blues 32 (Christie 2, Akira Ioane, Faiane & Tuungafasi tries; Barrett 2 conversions & penalty) Highlanders 21  (Dixon & Frizell tries; Josh Ioane conversion & 3 penalties)

Super Rugby Aotearoa: Blues keep title hopes alive with bonus-point win over Highlanders