Delaney leads Highlanders to win
Highlanders flyhalf Mike Delaney returned from Japan to put in an excellent performance and lead his side to a close, but hugely important 30-27 win over the Blues in Dunedin on Friday.
Delaney, flown in as a replacement for Colin Slade after his injury, produced a great performance to help the side to victory with a 20-point haul.
It was the first time in 10 matches that the Highlanders managed to beat the Blues and they took the Gordon Hunter Memorial Trophy for their efforts, which came off a solid performance and another 'Jekyll and Hyde' Blues performance.
For a team that has been heckled, beaten and battered this entire season the Blues showed an immense amount of character and heart in the match, but then made some inexplicable decisions that hardly helped them close to the end.
For one, the call not to go for a penalty in front of the posts with three minutes to go must be questioned. They had another penalty two minutes later and again chose a scrum, only to have both their setpiece fail to deliver and the ball eventually go dead in one of the biggest free-for-all rucks you’d ever see in Super Rugby. To take the chance the Blues showed an enthusiasm to win, but not brains to know that they easily could get a tough ruck decision against them, which they did.
It all was so far removed from the way they started, as the Blues opened their account early from a dropped pass by Delaney in his own 22, with the turnover ball sent wide to Hadleigh Parkes for the opening score.
This video is not available in your region
Delaney quickly made up for the error, sending Hosea Gear through a beauty of a gap eight minutes later, with Gear ensuring the try by offloading to Shaun Treeby at the right moment for the try.
From there on the battle began between the flyhalves, with Gareth Anscombe desperately trying to keep up with Delaney through penalty after penalty. The home side lead 16-14 at the break and the ding-dong battle carried on after the break as both sides pushed hard for the victory.
The Blues seemed to have taken the advantage when Rene Ranger glided through a gap to put them 27-22 ahead, but Delaney brought the Highlanders back with a penalty before a horrific Blues mistake swung the scoreline back towards the home side.
Hosea Gear was instrumental in the try again, making the initial break and putting in the grubber kick behind the Blues backs for what looked to be a simple touchdown and 22 dropout, but Ranger missed the ball, which bobbled inwards as it went over the line and Kurt Baker pounced, putting the Highlanders 30-27 ahead.
The Blues tried everything in the last few minutes, shunning the draw for a hopeful victory. But adventure wasn’t their friend on the night, and some silly decisions at the end ultimately cost them the game.
Highlanders – Try: Shaun Treeby, Kurt Baker. Conversion: Mike Delany. Penalties: Mike Delany(6) .
Blues – Try: Hadleigh Parks, Rene Ranger. Conversion: Gareth Anscombe. Penalties: Gareth Anscombe(5) .