Highlanders scrumhalf Aaron Smith breaks the line against the Blues in Dunedin. Photo: Adam Binns, EPA

DUNEDIN – The return of Sonny Bill Williams was not enough to end the Blues’ woeful away run in New Zealand derbies, with the Highlanders taking out their Super Rugby clash 26-20 in Dunedin on Saturday.

The Highlanders shut out the Blues in a 13-point second half as they overturned a 20-13 halftime deficit.

Code-hopping star Williams, out of action since an Achilles injury picked up playing sevens at the Rio Olympics eight months ago, and not having played 15s rugby since the 2015 World Cup final, went from hero to villain as he tried to rescue the Blues.

He came off the bench with 18 minutes to play and twice used his trademark offloads to split the Highlanders’ defence and put the Blues into a position to regain the lead.

Both times the moves fell down, but it put the Blues deep inside the Highlanders’ 22 until a Williams pass went along the ground, allowing the Highlanders to pounce on the ball.

It started a 90-metre move which ended with the Blues penalised when scrambling to defend on their own line.

Marty Banks, who did not miss a kick, landed the penalty to push the margin out to six points, leaving the Blues spending the final eight minutes trying unsuccessfully for a converted try to save the match.

The Blues, who have not won an away game in New Zealand since they beat the Hurricanes in Wellington in 2013, now slip to the bottom of the New Zealand conference behind the Highlanders.

Captain James Parsons said his side let themselves down by letting the Highlanders score 16 unanswered points after the Blues had led 20-10 late in the first half.

“We probably went away from being as direct as we were in that first half, and they got a good roll on. We had enough opportunities to bounce back, but just didn’t quite get the execution,” he said.

Highlanders skipper Luke Whitelock said that despite his side coming out on top, they never felt totally in charge, particularly after trailing for most of the first half.

“We had our backs against the wall, and it’s a credit to the guys fronting up and getting back into the game,” he said.

“Look across their whole team, they have some X-factor and you saw glimpses of that, they could break the line or cut us open at any time.”


Highlanders 26 – Tries: Ben Smith, Malakai Fekitoa. Conversions: Marty Banks (2). Penalties: Banks (4).

Blues 20 – Tries: Charlie Faumuina, Gerard Cowley. Conversions: Piers Francis (2). Penalties: Francis (2).