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As it happened: Blues hold off Highlanders comeback to claim close win

Relive 1 NEWS' live updates of this evening's Super Rugby Aotearoa derby between the Blues and Highlanders at Eden Park in Auckland.

FT: BLU 27-24 HIG

The Highlanders can't get it back and the Blues win a thriller! What a contest! Highlanders came out firing in the second half but the Blues do enough to hold on for their third win heading into a bye. That's all from us. Have a good evening.

79min: BLU 27-24 HIG

The Blues scrum gets a penalty! Superb effort from the forwards these last two minutes. 30s left. Highlanders have to steal this lineout. Blues throw in 10m from halfway.

78min: BLU 27-24 HIG

Highlanders set the maul but Sotutu get's on the ball. He's holding it up. His teammates notice and fly in to support him. The Highlanders can't get the ball on the ground! Whistle goes and the Blues get a scrum! What a play by Sotutu!

76min: BLU 27-24 HIG

Another penalty against the Blues. This one's kickable but the Highlanders sniff blood. They go for the corner! 5M LINEOUT COMING UP!

75min: BLU 27-24 HIG

Highlanders with a chance to win it all here as the Blues are penalised for killing the ball. This penalty would be about 45m out on the right sideline so they kick for the corner instead. Highlanders lineout, 20m from the Blues line. Can they steal another last-gasp win.

72min: BLU 27-24 HIG

HIG MISSED THREE! Should've listened to coach! Blues cough up the ball on the line and Highlander launch a counter attack. They kick down field into no man's land and while Black gets back to it, he's isolated by the Highlanders chasers and gives up a penalty. It's right in front, 40m out. Hunt grabs the tee, goes for it AND HE'S MISSED IT! Blues get out with the lead in tact. 22m dropout coming up.

69min: BLU 27-24 HIG

Blues get a penalty advantage. The ball comes to Barrett and he attempts a drop goal but misses. No foul though as we come back for the penalty. It's on the Highlanders' 22m right in front. Asst coach Umaga is waving the kicking tee on the sideline but the Blues ignore him and kick for the corner. 5m lineout coming up.

67min: BLU 27-24 HIG

Blues doing a good job keeping the Highlanders in their own half here. After stealing the lineout, they kick into the Highlanders' 22m again and force another clearance. It's a bit better than the last one - Blues with a lineout 35m from the line.

65min: BLU 27-24 HIG

Aaron Smith with the great work! Blues maul to within 5m of the Highlanders line. It comes to the middle of the field and the ball is set. Smith comes driving through the ruck and sparks a turnover! Blues won't release it though so it's a penalty for the Highlanders! Kick for touch gets them to halfway.

63min: BLU 27-24 HIG

Barrett with another pinpoint kick mounts pressure on the Highlanders as they get a 5m lineout once the ball bounces over the line. Highlanders win the lineout and clear but it's not a great kick. Blues 15m from the line with this lineout.

61min: BLU 27-24 HIG

Highlanders look to strike back and go to the backline on halfway to do it but Clarke comes up with a big hit on Hunt! Hunt manages to shake it off but is immediately swamped by Lamborn and the Blues get a penalty for not releasing! They kick for touch and it's a Blues lineout 22m from the Highlanders line. Rieko Ioane back on the field from his sin binning too.

59min: BLU 27-24 HIG

BLU TRY! The Blues forwards go to work and Papalii eventually gets a double! Black can't convert the extras though, his second miss of the night, so it's just three points in it.

57min: BLU 22-24 HIG

Blues with a big chance to reply here. Again, Gregory struggles with a high ball and who else but Clarke scoops up the loose ball. The Blues spot space behind the reforming Highlanders line and it's the hooker James Parsons who puts the kick through! It's a beauty! Hunt gets back to it but he's swamped by Blues chasers. Penalty Blues for not releasing! 5m lineout coming up with a kick into touch!

53min: BLU 22-24 HIG

HIG TRY! No doubt this time. Highlanders go to a set move off the lineout and get close to the line. A couple of pick and gos and it's Frizell who goes over eventually. Hunt puts the Highlanders in front with the extras.

51min: BLU 22-17 HIG

HIG NO TRY! A lot to unpack here. Another linebreak, this time by the big man Thwaites. He's brought down inches from the line. Highlanders go wide and score in the corner but replays show there was a knock on before the ball went to the wing. However, that leads to the penalty advantage the Highlanders had which was for a blatent offside by Rieko Ioane stopping the first run after the linebreak. So Ioane gets yellow carded and we come back for a penalty! Highlanders kick for touch. 5m lineout coming up with a one man advantage.

49min: BLU 22-17 HIG

Blues look to attack down the right wing but Tu'u has come in and he's on the ball again! Blues don't release and it's a Highlanders penalty. Highlanders kick for touch and get a lineout on the Blues' 22m.

47min: BLU 22-17 HIG

Not one of Hunt's better kicks. He takes in a territorial kick from Barrett and looks to respond with one of his own but it's off the shin and goes out on the full. Blues lineout 10m inside the Highlanders' half.

44min: BLU 22-17 HIG

HIG TRY! Perfect start for the Highlanders! Tu'u sparks it with a linebreak in the middle of the field after shaking off a Sotutu tackle. Highlanders within 10m, they come wide and Hunt is in through a Blues hole. Gap is narrowed early on.

40min: BLU 22-10 HIG

Back underway here.

HT: BLU 22-10 HIG

Players head to the sheds after a thrilling first half. Slowed down a bit towards the end with handling errors creeping in but besides that, another cracking derby. Standout has to be Clarke so far who, as 1 NEWS revealed, is playing in honour of his granddad who passed away earlier today. Scored the opening try, set up another and has been a nightmare so far.

Stay with us. We'll be back soon with the second half.

37min: BLU 22-10 HIG

Another territorial kick from Black pins the Highlanders deep in their territory. It bounces into touch and the Highlanders will have a lineout 10m from their line. Pressure us relieved soonafter though as the Blues are penalised at the lineout. Ensuing kick gets the Highlanders another lineout, this time 10m from halfway.

36min: BLU 22-10 HIG

Wet conditions are starting to show up now. That's another knock on. Blues scrum just inside the Highlanders half.

34min: BLU 22-10 HIG

Blues go to the high ball and force another knock on from the Highlanders. 20m earned on that. New scrum 10m inside the Highlanders half.

33min: BLU 22-10 HIG

Blues clear for touch with Barrett's boot. Highlanders respond with a maul off the lineout but the metres gained mean nothing with another knock on soon after. Blues get a scrum 10m from halfway.

31min: BLU 22-10 HIG

Highlanders look to reply and work their way into the Blues' half. They're slowly building when out of nowhere, Tuipulotu comes up with a big hit on Dixon and forces a knock on! Blues scrum 15m from their own line.

29min: BLU 22-10 HIG

BLU TRY! CLARKE SETS UP A STUNNER! The young winger gets the ball on halfway, steps inside his man and blitzes into the backfield. Brushes off a sweeping defender and it's just the fullback to beat. Has Rieko Ioane in support and executes the draw and pass with ease. Ioane runs 25m to finish it off. Absolute magic from the youngster.

26min: BLU 17-10 HIG

Handling error shortly after the kickoff by the Highlanders gives the Blues a scrum on halfway.

24min: BLU 17-10 HIG

BLU TRY! Blues respond right away with Papalii! They get the ball back shortly after the kickoff and use the Highlanders attack against them with a grubber towards the left corner. Gregory has trouble recovering it but finally does so on his line. Three defenders are there to meet him so he tries to clear it. Sotutu gets the charge-down! Papalii is there for the loose ball and dives on it over the line. Blues back on top!

22min: BLU 10-10 HIG

HIG THREE! Highlanders take the free points on offer from 5m out in front. It's come at a cost though as Gilbert has been carried off the pitch with what looks like a knee injury.

21min: BLU 10-7 HIG

Just while we have a stoppage in play, 1 NEWS Sport Reporter Matt Manukia has confirmed Clarke's opening try had added meaning tonight: 

21min: BLU 10-7 HIG

Blues defence survives the first attack but they'll have to do it again after conceding an offside penalty on their line.

19min: BLU 10-7 HIG

Highlanders chip a ball through down the left wing. Nareki somehow keeps it in play with a tap ahead. He gives chase but Nock beats him to it. Nareki tackles him in goal and it'll be a 5m Highlanders scrum. Both sides not afraid to show some razzle dazzle so far!

17min: BLU 10-7 HIG

Blues make a break down the right wing shortly after the restart. They bring it back left but Tu'u stops it and gets on the ball. Blues don't release and there's the penalty. Dangerous momentum stopped there. Highlanders clear for touch and get a lineout on halfway.

15min: BLU 10-7 HIG

BLU THREE! Black slots it with ease out front. Blues back in front.

14min: BLU 7-7 HIG

Blues aren't afraid to use kick-passes here. Black fires one over to the left wing and its Papalii who collects it. He hits his defender and offloads to Clarke. Clarke makes some yards before he's finally taken down. Blues recycle quick and earn an offside advantage with it. They can't do much else and eventually come back for the penalty. Black grabbing the kicking tee from 40m out.

12min: BLU 7-7 HIG

HIG TRY! Great response from the Highlanders. They keep hitting the Blues line with the forwards making small metres at a time until they're close. It comes right to the wing but they can't find the finish there. Back to the forwards and finally Dixon goes over with a shove from his teammates. All locked up. Cracking start, this.

9min: BLU 7-0 HIG

Shortly after the restart, Highlanders earn the first penalty of the night as the Blues don't release the ball with Dixon all over it. Highlanders kick for touch and get a lineout 20m from the Blues' line.

7min: BLU 7-0 HIG

BLU TRY! Caleb Clarke steamrolls his way to the line! Superb finish from the young winger but great, patient attack in the build-up. Blues work left-then-right multiple times before a linebreak by Hodgman gets them 5m short. Ball comes left, Clarke steps inside one, fends off another and runs over the top of the final defender to find the line. 

5min: BLU 0-0 HIG

Highlanders can't do much under so much pressure here and they clear. Blues with a good attacking platform - a lineout on the Highlanders' 22m.

3min: BLU 0-0 HIG

Strong star from the home side! They work the blindside twice before the backline calls for it. Black spots space behind the Highlanders and kicks one over for the left corner. No Highlander can get to it and it skids into touch. Highlanders lineout 5m from their own line.

1min: BLU 0-0 HIG

Blues waste no time with a clearing kick and Highlanders look to run it back but disaster strikes early in the form of a knock on. Blues scrum 10m inside their half.

KICKOFF

Hurricanes get us underway!

PREGAME

Touching moment from those in attendance tonight. A moment's silence for Constable Matthew Hunt, the policeman who was killed in action in West Auckland last week. It was revealed after his death he had attended the Blues' game against the Hurricanes in the opening round of Super Rugby Aotearoa. A police helicopter flies over Eden Park and reserves plenty of cheers from the crowd. Nice work to everyone involved.

PREVIEW

Blues Otere Black in action. Source: Photosport

Two undefeated sides enter this evening's clash in Auckland as the Blues host the Highlanders to kick start the third round of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

Of note though, the Blues enter the match with two wins under their belt while the Highlanders only have one after the Southerners had a bye last week.

They will have had their eyes keenly fixed on the Blues' clash with the Chiefs which resulted in a 24-12 win for the Auckland franchise, giving them a record fifth-straight win on the road when including the Super Rugby matches from prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

With that in mind, Blues coach Leon MacDonald has rewarded his team's success with an unchanged starting XV for tonight's game, meaning the monster loose forwards trio of Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii and Hoskins Sotutu will once again sit on the fringes of the scrum.

It also sees All Blacks star Beauden Barrett remain at fullback while an in-form Otere Black runs the backline at first-five.

The Highlanders on the other hand have opted to put faith in 21-year-old Scott Gregory who will make his first career Super Rugby start tonight from fullback.

The Northland and All Blacks Sevens playmaker said it was exciting to get the call-up and a potential showdown with Barrett.

“It’s good to get a shot at starting this week. I’m just looking forward to it and will soak it all up.”

Gregory's inclusion sees Mitch Hunt move from fullback to first-five to cover the injured Josh Ioane; the only changes coach Aaron Mauger has made from his side's week one last-gasp win over the Chiefs.

TEAMS

BLU: Beauden Barrett, Mark Telea, Rieko Ioane, TJ Faiane, Caleb Clarke, Otere Black, Sam Nock, Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papali'i, Akira Ioane, Josh Goodhue, Patrick Tuipulotu (c), Ofa Tuungafasi, James Parsons, Alex Hodgman.

Reserves: Kurt Eklund, Marcel Renata, Sione Mafileo, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Tony Lamborn, Finlay Christie, Harry Plummer, Joe Marchant.

HIG: Scott Gregory, Sam Gilbert, Rob Thompson, Sio Tomkinson, Jona Nareki, Mitch Hunt, Aaron Smith, Marino Mikaele Tu'u, Dillon Hunt, Shannon Frizell, Josh Dickson, Pari Pari Parkinson, Siate Tokolahi, Ash Dixon, Ayden Johnstone.

Reserves: Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Jeff Thwaites, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Kayne Hammington, Bryn Gatland, Ngane Punivai