A brutally efficient first half has set up the Highlanders for a 30-24 Super Rugby win over the Blues at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
The Blues, coming off their first win of the season over the Brumbies last week, scrabbled for possession and territory on Saturday as the Highlanders ran in three tries and took a 24-0 lead into halftime.
The Aucklanders lifted to win the second half 24-6, scoring four tries, including a brace for Keven Mealamu.
But Lima Sopoaga’s accurate boot was the Highlanders’ winning edge, and the fly-half added 15 points with three conversions and three penalties.
Missed tackles cost the Blues dearly early on, and were compounded by handling errors and poor decisions when they managed to secure possession.
Explosive Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa collected two tries. The first was after just 10 minutes when he and winger Waisake Naholo combined down the right.
Naholo featured again five minutes later, crashing over in the tackle for his own try to give the Highlanders a 17-0 lead after 18 minutes.
The home team wrapped up a dominant first half with a third try three minutes from the break.
Halfback Aaron Smith set it up with a quick tap from a scrum penalty before Fekitoa’s swerve and quick feet left the Blues defence flat-footed.
The Blues stormed back in the second half. Inside centre George Moala dotted down less than two minutes after the restart and lock Patrick Tuipulotu powered more than five minutes later.
The Highlanders were reduced to 14 men as the hour mark approached, after lock Joe Wheeler was binned for a dangerous tackle on Blues skipper Jerome Kaino.
The Blues capitalised almost immediately. Replacement hooker Keven Mealamu slipped through for the first of his two tries, and the second came just three minutes from fulltime to secure a second consolation bonus point.