Super Rugby Trans-Tasman: Blues need late Blake Gibson heroics to dispatch Highlanders for title

Replacement Blake Gibson has propelled the Blues to their first Super Rugby title in 18 years, scoring late in a 23-15 victory over the Highlanders at Auckland's Eden Park.

The home side somewhat squandered at 13-6 halftime through ill-discipline, allowing their rivals enough penalty opportunities to hold a 15-13 lead with 10 minutes remaining.

With the finish-line in sight, Harry Plummer - who had replaced first-choice goalkicker Otere Black - slotted a difficult goal from near touch to reclaim the advantage and Gibson plunged over from close range to seal the deal for the Blues.

The first (and perhaps only) Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title represents the first success for the perenially under-achieving Blues since 2003, when they dispatched a Crusaders line-up that featured now-Blues coach Leon MacDonald.

But the Highlanders struck first in the final, with first-five Mitch Hunt slotting the first of his four penalties for an early lead.

The Blues' response came from winger Mark Telea, who fielded a crossfield kick from Black and wrongfooted the last defender to score in the corner. Black slotted his sideline conversion and added a penalty for a 10-3 advantage, and both sides swapped penalties before the break.

Highlanders skipper Ash Dixon spent 10 minutes in the sin bin, after a high tackle on Black, who had to leave the field temporarily for a head assessment. Plummer came on to slot the penalty, but the Blues were unable to take further toll from their one-man advantage.

Over the second half, momentum swung back towards the visitors, who took every opportunity to kick for goal and close the deficit.

Soon after the restart, Black missed a relatively simple penalty that might have proved costly, especially when Highlanders fullback Josh Ioane kicked a long-range attempt to put his side ahead with 15 minutes remaining.

Plummer replaced Black for good and edge the Blues back in front, before Blake's final dagger.

As the Blues forwards laid siege on the Highlanders 22, No.8 Hoskins Sotutu ran powerfully towards the line and when he was brought down, Blake was the next runner and scored the try. 

For the first time in five consecutive Super Rugby finals, there were no breakdance celebrations from Crusaders coach Scott Robertson and this outcome may just inspire the Blues to kick on at this level, as they've promised to do so often over the past two decades, without delivering.

Blues 23 (Telea & Gibson tries; Black conversion & penalty, Plummer 2 penalties & conversion) Highlanders 15 (Hunt 4 penalties, Ioane penalty)