WELLINGTON – An acrobatic Shannon Frizell sparked an Highlanders revival to snap a five-match losing streak with a 24-12 victory over the Blues in their Super Rugby clash in Dunedin on Saturday.
It was all the Blues for most of the first half when they led 5-0 before Frizell put the Highlanders on the board by diving over a ruck to score after a series of forward drives had proved fruitless.
From there the Highlanders took control and outplayed the Blues three tries to two, to lift themselves off the bottom of the New Zealand conference.
The Blues remain in third place, behind the Canterbury Crusaders and Wellington Hurricanes, but have not won an away match in New Zealand since round two of the 2013 season.
Highlanders' skipper Ben Smith described the win as "awesome".
"Our defence did a good job because they’ve got x-factor right across their team and we managed to work hard for each other and shut that down."
Pre-match interest in the match had focused on rival fly-halves Josh Ioane and Otere Black now Damian McKenzie is out of World Cup reckoning.
But neither provided any obvious answers for the All Blacks selectors, although Ioane had a 100 percent kicking record with three out of three.
The one person who did shine in the opening stanza was veteran Blues centre Ma'a Nonu who blasted his way through the Highlanders' defence to put Tom Robinson over for the opening try in the 22nd minute.
By that stage the Highlanders had been forced to make 67 tackles compared to 19 for the Blues.
But fortunes were reversed in the run up to half-time when momentum shifted to the Highlanders.
After being denied one try, when Blues wing Caleb Clarke won a three-way dive for the ball, they were eventually rewarded with Frizell's dive over a ruck to score.
Ioane's conversion put the Highlanders two points ahead and with signs their confidence was growing.
Their domination continued at the start of the second half and their scrum, which had struggled early on, was able to bully the Blues all-All Black front row to earn a penalty try.
Matt Faddes extended the lead to 21-5 with a runaway try from an intercept on half-way and Ioane extended the advantage with a penalty.
With time on the clock, the Blues had their best moment of the second half when Melani Nanai latched on to a cross kick to score.AFP