A second-half penalty try helped lift the Highlanders to a 24-12 win over the Blues in Super Rugby on Saturday which avenged the Blues' win in the first meeting of the teams a month ago.
The Blues' 33-26 win over the Highlanders in round six was, and remains, their first and only win over a New Zealand opponent in three years. Their subsequent match in the New Zealand conference resulted in a narrow loss to the Hamilton-based Chiefs.
Buoyed by wins over Australia's Waratahs and South Africa's Stormers, the Blues entered Saturday's match as favorites but the Highlanders' strong second half called into question their touted revival.
The Highlanders led 7-5 after a muddling first half in which the Blues held a small advantage on the field but not on the scoreboard.
A huge scrum surge in the 50th minute brought the Highlanders a penalty try which made their lead comfortable and it became decisive with a 40-meter intercept try to Matt Faddes six minutes later.
"I'm just glad we stuck to what we've been practicing all week and put it out there on the field," Highlanders captain Ben Smith said. "These New Zealand games are always tough. We knew how good this Blues team is and had to prepare accordingly."
On Friday, the Wellington, New Zealand-based Hurricanes avoided a surprise loss to the Japan-based Sunwolves by scoring 22 unanswered points. The Hurricanes came back from 23-7 down in Tokyo to win 29-23 and close the gap on New Zealand conference and overall leaders the Crusaders to seven points.
The Crusaders, the defending champions, had a bye weekend.
The Lions of South Africa, finalists for the last three seasons, pulled out of a midseason slump to edge the Chiefs 23-17 after being 20-0 up in New Zealand. The Queensland Reds registered the third straight away victory to start round 10 of the season by beating the Sharks 21-14, the Reds' first win in South Africa in four years and the first in Durban over the Sharks in 15 years.
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