Super Rugby Pacific: Blues show championship intent with record opening win over Highlanders

After falling short of Super Rugby Pacific glory last season, the Blues have laid down an emphatic statement of intent, overpowering the Highlanders 60-20 at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Beauden Barrett accounted for 25 of his team's points, including a near-faltless goalkicking display, while winger Mark Telea and centre Rieko Ioane scored try doubles, as the notherners inflicted a record defeat on their southern rivals.  

Three tries to Barrett, Caleb Clarke and Ioane in the space of six minutes propelled the northern visitors out to a 31-6 first-half advantage, before the home side struck back twice before halftime to stay in the contest.  

Rieko Ioane scores a try against the Highlanders
Rieko Ioane scores a try against the Highlanders. Photo credit: Photosport

After an exchange of penalties, the Blues scored the first try through winger Mark Telea, who provided the last pass to Barrett for the second, after a breakout from their own 22.

Another Highlanders turnover on halfway saw Barrett kick long for a fast-closing Clarke to chase and score, while Akira Ioane pounced on another loose pass to spark another counterattack that resulted in Telea sending brother Rieko away to touch down at the other end.

Highlanders halfback Folau Fakatava was denied a try, when he was deemed guilty of a double movement, but soon after, Blues lock Cameron Suafoa was yellow-carded for cynical offside and the southerners finally cracked the defence, when first-five Mitch Hunt crossed.

After the halftime siren, the home side continued to pour on attacking pressure and the Blues were forced into repeatedly penalties, as they defended grimly. The half stretched an extra seven minutes, but as Suafoa returned to the game, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was dispatched for offside.

 From the resulting scrum, Josh Timu ran a hard line to where Tuivasa-Sheck was missing, narrowing the scoreline to 31-20 at the break. 

That was as close as the scoreline got, as the Blues piled on four answered tries through the second half to put their biggest-ever total on their hapless opponents.

Telea had his double, when Hunt fired a long speculator pass to midfield, but found the powerful winger waiting in his backline to intercept and race away. He then created Ioane's second, fielding a kick inside his own half and beating three tacklers, before finding Hoskins Sotutu in support, with Ioane taking the final pass from his No.8. 

Just as they had in the first half, the Highlanders seemed to have snatched a consolation try after the final siren, when captain Billy Harmon hacked a kick ahead, gathered and reverse-passed for Argentinian Martin Bogoda to sprint 60 metres untouched.

Replays showed Harmon had knocked on during the build-up and the try was ruled out.

The Blues face a stern test next Sunday, when they take on ACT Brumbies at Melbourne, while the Highlanders must regroup against the hurting Crusaders, after their first-up loss.

Blues 60 (Telea 2, R Ioane 2, Clarke, Renata, Papali'i & Barrett tries; Barrett 7 conversions & 2 penalties) Highlanders 20 (Hunt & Timu tries; Gilbert 2 penalties & 2 conversions)

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