Super Rugby Pacific: Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody bemoans self-inflicted wounds in crushing defeat to Blues

The Highlanders are licking their wounds, after Saturday's demolition at the hands of the Blues in their Super Rugby Pacific season opener.

Led by tearaway wing Mark Telea, last year's finalists unleashed their All Blacks-laden XV to devastating effect, running in eight tries from all corners of Forsyth Barr Stadium in a 60-20 riot that reduced the roar of 'The Zoo' to the whimper of a petting farm.

First-up results can often be deceiving, but on the back of their disappointing 2022 campaign - when they scraped into eighth place with just four wins from 14 games - the early signs are far from encouraging.

The Blues ran in eight tries to two on Saturday.
The Blues ran in eight tries to two on Saturday. Photo credit: Getty Images

According to coach Clarke Dermody, much of that damage was self-inflicted, rather than a product of genuine Blues dominance.

"The thing that hurts is they didn't really earn a lot of [their points]," Dermody said. "We were giving them those easy ins.

"It hurts for sure. We'll definitely try to move on, but it's got to sting a wee bit.

"We are at home, the crowd was in. The Matatū [beating the Blues in curtainraiser] was an awesome start.

"Unfortunately, we left ourselves too much to do against a team that's probably gunning for that final spot that they were in last year."

There were positives for Dermody and his men to build on, particularly in their response to the Aucklanders' blistering start to the contest.

The Blues exploded to a daunting 31-6 advantage, before the hosts put together a composed five-minute response before halftime that saw them pull the deficit back to a much more manageable 11 points at the interval.

Unfortunately for the southerners, the Blues almost doubled their first-half total in the second stanza, as they lost all semblance of structure in their attempt to make inroads on the scoreboard.

"We just gave them too many goes at us" said Dermody, bemoaning his team's accuracy at the breakdown. 

"You've seen how electric their backline was. We knew they'd be like that, but we just didn't treasure the ball enough 

"We were running back to a lot of things and quite often it was behind the posts.

"We were out of shape and throwing things that weren't on. We got ourselves back in the game with a bit more structure before halftime, but we just left ourselves too much to do there in that second half.

"We can't give teams like the Blues a headstart like that. It's going to be a long year otherwise."

It doesn't get any easier for the Highlanders. They'll have only a few days to regroup, before jumping on a plane to Melbourne, where the wounded defending champion Crusaders - out for retribution after their own stinging loss - await for their Super Round showdown on Friday.

"They won't be hurting after the weekend either, will they?" Dermody quipped, with a roll of his eyes. 

Mark Telea in action against the Highlanders
Mark Telea in action against the Highlanders. Photo credit: Photosport

"It's a matter of trying pick the boys up, show them the good stuff and the stuff we need to tidy up, before going into next week.

"We leave on Wednesday for Melbourne, so we only have the two days to get ready for that.

"It's about making sure we don't overdo the week and get the boys fresh, because - as you've seen - the game was pretty fast and there were some tired bodies at the end."

They'll head across the Tasman without one of their most potent weapons, with Jona Nareki's foot injury keeping him on the sidelines for up to six weeks.

Star No.8 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u will also undergo further testing for a suspected rub injury that forced him from the field early against the Blues, putting his participation in doubt.

Returning first-five Mitch Hunt is confident his squad have the wherewithal to undergo an honest assessment and pick themselves up off the canvas against their southern rivals, after failing to match the Blues intensity.

"You've got to be ready against these boys physically to go to those dark places," said Hunt. "You can see when they get a bit of space.

"Their boys are powerful and strong, and you've got to be up for that battle. At times tonight, we probably weren't.

"There were patches of good and plenty to work on as well. We've got a great feeling about the group, an accountable group that are just looking to get better.

"We'll address that pretty quickly. We have to be honest about the performance and hopefully make some quick fixes."

Join Newshub at 7:05pm Friday for live updates of the Highlanders v Crusaders Super Rugby Pacific clash