Super Rugby Pacific: Hoskins Sotutu hattrick sees Blues overpower Highlanders for second straight win

A Hoskins Sotutu hat-trick has fired the Blues to the top of Super Rugby Pacific, courtesy of a 37-29 victory over the Highlanders.

Fresh from a double in last week's season-opening win over Fijian Drua, the Blues and All Blacks' No.8 went even better at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, and added another three to his tally.  

Sotutu's treble came as part of another impressive display from the Blues' attack, who have so far perfectly combined power and pace to begin Vern Cotter's tenure as head coach.   

And as the icing on the cake, Sotutu's efforts came with both All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson, and forwards coach Jason Ryan in attendance. 

Hoskins Sotutu scores.
Hoskins Sotutu scores. Photo credit: Getty Images

For the Highlanders, fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens put in another impressive display after his move in the off-season.  

The 22-year-old scored his third try of the season after a double against Moana Pasifika last week, and created another for winger Timoci Tavatavanawai.  

But his absence through a yellow card to end the first half proved the catalyst for the Blues' attack, who scored twice in his absence.

What's more, goal-kicking proved to be a weakness for the Highlanders, as four unsuccessful kicks on the night - three conversions and a penalty - cost nine points that would have seen them over the line.   

In a fast start to Super Round, the Highlanders struck first after an error from the Blues at the kick-off.  

As Sotutu knocked on, the proceeding scrum saw the Highlanders go right, where Sean Withy took the ball to the line and score, as the Blues' defence anticipated Tavatavanawai outside him.  

Sotutu, though, atoned just minutes later, and equalised for the Blues as the forward pack surged over the tryline from a lineout drive.  

Neither Sam Gilbert nor Stephen Perofeta could add the extras, though, and levelled scores at 5-5.   

The Blues were hit as lock Sam Darry limped off with an apparent knee injury, and the Highlanders took advantage.  

An offload in the tackle from Wales international Rhys Patchell freed Jona Nareki on the right, who in turn found Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens outside him, as the fullback ran in to score against his former side.

Sean Withy scored early for the Highlanders.
Sean Withy scored early for the Highlanders. Photo credit: Getty Images

A penalty saw Perofeta land the first successful kick of the night and close the gap to two points, only for the Highlanders to strike again.   

From the back of a ruck, Folau Fakatava stabbed a perfect kick through for Patchell, as the Welshman grabbed his first Super Rugby try as the Blues' defence were caught napping.  

Playing in place of Finlay Christie, on an All Blacks rest week, Taufa Funaki danced past the Highlanders' defence to finish off a 12-phase try, as the Blues equalised.  

But Vern Cotter's side weren't done.  

A Blues counter-attack after an Ethan de Groot knock-on resulted in a yellow card to Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, who was sent to the sin bin.   

And with a numerical advantage, the Blues scored with the final play of the first half to take the lead for the first time, as a Mark Telea pick and go on the tryline showed a glimpse of the star power on offer.   

Up 22-15 at the break, the Blues twisted the knife after halftime, as Sotutu grabbed his second double in as many weeks, before another Perofeta penalty pushed the score to 32-15.

Back to their full complement, the Highlanders stayed in touching distance of the Blues' scoreline, as Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens sent Tavatavanawai over on the right, as Gilbert's first successful conversion of the night narrowed the gap to 10.  

But any chance of the Highlanders' comeback was snuffed out late in the second half, as Sotutu completed his hat-trick when he crashed over on the right, and gave him an incredible five tries in two matches to start the season.  

The Blues finished the night with 14, as halfback Sam Nock was sent to the sinbin for cynical play.  

And with the final act of the night, Patchell stabbed a kick through to give young first-five Ajay Faleafaga a try on his Super Rugby debut, and converted it for good measure.  

Victory, albeit without a bonus point, sends the Blues to the top of the standings after their first two matches.

However, the Hurricanes, Brumbies or Reds could overtake Cotter's side, provided they win with a bonus point over the coming days. 

Highlanders 29 (Withy, Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Patchell, Tavatavanawai, Faleafaga tries; Gilbert, Faleafaga conversions)  

Blues 37 (Sotutu 3, Funaki, Telea tries; Perofeta 2 conversions; Perofeta 2 penalties)