The Blues scored two tries in each half to comfortably beat an injury-hit Highlanders outfit 29-12 at Unitec on Friday, rounding off an impressive pre-season for the Auckland side.
After victories over both the Rebels and the Hurricanes in recent weeks the Blues capped things off with a controlled performance against a Highlanders team that was penalised heavily at the breakdown.
The visitors, who have been hit hard by injuries in the front row and midfield, took an early surprise lead at the Blues training base when speedy fullback Kurt Baker intercepted and raced 60 metres upfield to score the opening try.
However, the Blues were dominant in terms of territory and possession and it soon translated into points when scrumhalf Alby Matthewson darted over from the base of an attacking scrum, with the conversion levelling the scores.
The next Blues try was sparked by a piece of magic from the skilful Rene Ranger who beat three defenders before offloading to right wing David Raikuna who raced over in the corner.
A penalty from the boot of flyhalf Michael Hobbs on the stroke of half-time meant that the Blues went into the break with a 15-7 lead, and with his side in control of the game Blues coach Pat Lam made a few changes.
Skipper Keven Mealamu got through his first 40 minutes of the season, although Jerome Kaino was not so lucky when he claimed a finger to the eye and had to leave the field before the break. The All Black loose forward will see an eye specialist immediately and is expected to be available for the opening Super Rugby clash against the Crusaders next week.
The Blues continued their dominance in the second half and 24-year-old flyhalf Hobbs showed why he is the frontrunner to wear the No.10 jersey this season when he sliced through the Highlanders defence to score a try that he converted himself.
Highlanders skipper Jamie Mackintosh showed that he has recovered from his off-season groin surgery when he forced his way over for his team's second try but that was erased when replacement Blues flank Dan Pryor got over for a late try of his own.
With players like scrumhalf Piri Weepu and fullback Isaia Toeava getting a run in the second half, Lam will be pleased with the results of the outing, although there will be slight concerns about the minor injuries to Kaino, Luke Braid and Lachie Munro - Braid sustained a cut to the head while Munro rolled an ankle and will be assessed in the coming days.
Highlanders boss Jamie Joseph will be satisfied that his team manged to stay relatively competitive despite their injury woes, although the way they were repeatedly blown up at the breakdown will be of some concern.
For the Blues:
Tries: Raikuna, Mathewson, Hobbs, Pryor
Cons: Hobbs 2, Anscombe
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Baker, Mackintosh
Blues: 15 Rudi Wulf, 14 David Raikuna, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Lachie Munro, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Luke Braid, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements: Most of the remaining squad will be on the bench.
Highlanders: 15 Kurt Baker, 14 Telusa Veainu, 13 Ben Smith, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Nick Crosswell, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Bronson Murray, 2 Andrew Hore, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Doug Tietjens, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Buxton Popoali'i, 23 Hoani MacDonald, 24 Cardiff Vaega, 25 Kees Meeuws.
Assistant referees: Bryce/Mike, Shaun Elliott
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