Highlanders get bonus-point win over Blues

The Highlanders have given themselves a great shot at hosting a Super Rugby play-off match with the maximum return from a 44-7 thumping of the hapless Blues.

Winger Patrick Osborne’s try in the 50th minute in Auckland on Friday night gave the southerners the all-important bonus point on a night when the win was never in doubt.

That meant that only the Chiefs can stop them from ending the regular season in fourth spot and securing home advantage in the first weekend of the finals.

To do that, the Chiefs have to match what the Highlanders did at Eden Park when they host competition leaders the Hurricanes in New Plymouth on Saturday night.

The Highlanders dominated the contest in wet conditions and went on to score seven tries to one.

For the Blues, the defeat closed the curtain on a miserable campaign that brought just three wins, their fewest in a single season, and kept them at risk of picking up the wooden spoon.

It was also a sad way for the franchise to farewell hooker Keven Mealamu, who was playing a record-extending 175th Super Rugby match.

The 123-Test All Black, given the captaincy for the night, got a big ovation when he was substituted off five minutes into the second spell.

The Blues showed occasional sparks of individual brilliance, but lacked cohesion and coughed up too many errors against a well-oiled Highlanders unit.

The Highlanders were on the board early, flanker John Hardie dotting down off a line-out drive in the 10th minute.

Even a yellow card to prop Josh Hohneck didn’t prevent their progress on the scoreboard.

Inside centre Shaun Treeby finished off a patient attack and five-eighth Lima Sopoaga added a penalty while the visitors were a man down.

Blindside flanker Elliott Dixon got in on the act after the halftime hooter, forcing his way over from a scrum.

After Osborne secured the bonus point, the Highlanders added further tries to No.8 Dan Pryor and lock Joe Latta to open out a 39-0 lead.

Replacement back Matt McGahan managed to get a consolation touchdown for the Blues, but the Highlanders had the final say through skipper Ben Smith.

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