Perennial under-achievers the Highlanders stuffing the fancied Blues in a warm-up match? That’s exactly what happened in Carisbrook this week.
Former ‘Landers first five Nick Evans is now with the Blues, attempting to fill at least part of the hole caused by the departure of Luke McAlister to Europe. The under-rated flyhalf, who may go far now that he’s turning out for a more successful team, dictated matters as the visitors ran out to a handy 21-7 lead in the first half. Evans himself crossed the line twice.
The Blues, who were virtually at fulls strength for this encounter, look a bit of a soft touch up front this year, with the departure of first-choice locks Rawlinson (to Europe) and Williams (to the Crusaders) in particular hitting them pretty hard. One wonders if this may not have contributed to the Highlanders turning the tables in the second half. What’s more likely, though, is that they adapted better to the increased pace that the ELV’s bring. Whatever the reason, the home side scored five unanswered tries in the second half to take the game 42-21.
In a strange twist, it was former Northland pivot Daniel Bowden who rubbed salt in the wounds, succeeding with all five conversion attempts. The former NZ Colt showed that the trend of New Zealand producing quality fly-halves in droves is set to continue this season. There was a strong showing by rookie winger Fetu’u Vainikolo, also, so expect to see that name appear regularly on the score sheet as the competition gets properly underway. I shudder to think how Blayden and his merry men will mangle the pronunciation, though.
The Highlanders kick off their campaign against the Reds next week. Some early momentum and perhaps they won’t be the easy-beats that everyone is expecting them to be this year. As for the Blues, if their forwards took strain against the lowly Landers, well, the Chiefs are going to stuff them. You read it here first.Tweet