Written by Max Sharp.
Despite an eventual 20-32 loss, the Highlanders played some of their best rugby in 2022 during the first half. The Highlanders continued to display a never-say-die attitude deep into the match as well, with 91 minutes of rugby being played out against the Blues. Who performed well and who didn't? Let's have a read.
Highlanders Player Ratings
Loosehead Prop - Ethan de Groot (7/10)
Both the Highlanders and the Blues had a tough time at the scrum, though the Highlanders' scrum was at it's strongest in the first half. de Groot was a major reason for this, while he also made a metre from each of his 3 carries and 7 tackles.
Hooker - Liam Coltman (4/10)
He'll be disappointed with his lineout throwing, as will his replacement, Andrew Makalio. Coltman did however, work hard at scrum time and make 8 tackles, we're all allowed to have a bad game and it was Coltman's turn for one. He'll be better next week.
Tighthead Prop - Jermaine Ainsley (7/10)
The former Wallaby was simply confined to the basics of his position against the Blues, but the scrum was far worse after he came off. Did make 2 passes and 6 tackles, not a vintage performance, but he'll be satisfied enough.
Lock 4 - Manaaki Selby-Rickit (3/10)
The Highlanders' lineout has to take a large portion of responsibility for the result, this includes Selby-Rickit, who, like three of the other starting tight five forwards, did not run any metres either. Just 4 tackles as well, the coaches were right to sub him off.
Lock 5 - Josh Dickson (4/10)
He struggled at lineout as well, whilst he failed to run any metres. Dickson did manage to get involved elsewhere in the game though, bringing his determination forward. Finished the 91-minute game with 6 passes, 9 tackles and a turnover.
Blindside Flanker - Shannon Frizell (9/10)
Looking like a different player wearing his new head gear, Frizell can hold his head high still. Was the Highlanders' lone try-scorer, making 40 metres, a clean break and beating 3 defenders from 13 carries. The game's top tackler with 19 to his name.
Openside Flanker - Gareth Evans (9/10)
Despite Evans breaking himself for the cause, he was the Highlanders' best performer. When he was subbed off in the 67th minute, Evans had made the most tackles with 12, while he finished the game with 4 turnovers. Defensive masterclass.
Number 8 - Marino Mikaele-Tu'u (7/10)
The destructive runner is building back up to the form of 2020. He worked tirelessly at rucks and ran 16 metres from 11 carries, managing 5 passes and an offload. 10 tackles is respectable too, once Mikaele-Tu'u rediscovers his turnover technique he'll get a test cap.
Halfback - Aaron Smith (5/10)
Though his influence on the team was very strong, Smith did nothing more than the basics of his position. His only statistics for the game were 51 passes and 2 tackles, you've got to do more than that at a professional level.
First-Five - Mitch Hunt (6/10)
Hunt, in a similar situation to Smith, exerted strong control of the game's tempo, well after the 80th minute in Hunt's case. He wasn't very involved outside goal kicking, but did well when he was, running 11 metres and beating 4 defenders from just 3 carries. A good turnover too.
Left Wing - Mosese Dawai (7/10)
An underrated player enhancing his reputation. Dawai is no doubt after a test debut for Fiji and it won't be far away if he keeps improving. Classy running with 44 metres off 9 carries, while he made 2 passes, an offload and 8 tackles.
Second-Five - Thomas Umaga-Jensen (7/10)
His team really felt the impact when he was subbed off in the first half due to a groin strain. Umaga-Jensen had been his team's best player, having already made 17 metres and beaten a defender. The 113kg midfielder will be missed while he's out injured.
Centre - Scott Gregory (6/10)
Gregory is a hard-working team man, but his errors do tend to let him down. His poor clearing kick lead to the Blues scoring, but he had a solid game overall. He ran the most metres for the Highlanders with 49, does need to pass more though.
Right Wing - Liam Coombes-Fabling (4/10)
The Waikato flyer was called into the Highlanders, despite spending the pre-season with the Chiefs. He didn't get insanely involved in the game, running just 4 metres from 4 carries, whilst he made a single pass and 4 tackles, as well as a turnover. Subbed off at half time due to injury.
Fullback - Connor Garden-Bachop (6/10)
He moved to the right wing in the second half, as a result of injuries to Umaga-Jensen and Coombes-Fabling. He took his chances, including 28 metres from 6 carries, plus 6 passes. An early knock on was Garden-Bachop's worst contribution.
Reserve Hooker - Andrew Makalio (No rating)
Though Makalio's lineout throwing wasn't flash, he didn't get involved elsewhere, though he made 6 metres from his lone carry. He didn't get enough game time to be rated properly.
Reserve Loosehead Prop - Daniel Lienert-Brown (4/10)
The Highlanders' scrum dipped in the second half, Lienert-Brown will be disappointed because of that. Not much involvement elsewhere either, he only made 4 tackles. Should have done more in 42 minutes.
Reserve Tighthead Prop - Josh Hohneck (5/10)
Hohneck was bought on for Ainsley in the 56th minute and like Lienert-Brown, didn't work hard enough outside of the scrum. His 5 tackles and single carry didn't lead to much, he made just one pass. An average game,
Reserve Lock - Bryn Evans (6/10)
The Highlanders' lineout stabilised a little with Evans on the field, his experience is invaluable. He ran 6 metres from 3 carries, but made just one tackle. Highlanders looked noticeably more fired up when he arrived.
Reserve Loose Forward - Hugh Renton (7/10)
Renton made amends for his disappointing performance last week, using his hulking size to good effect. His 23 metres were run from just 3 carries, while he also made 2 passes and 2 tackles. The door is not yet shut on his chances to be an All Black.
Reserve Halfback - Folau Fakatava (No rating)
It was far too late in the game for Fakatava to make any impact when he came on in the 74th minute. Came on and did his job, not enough game time to be rated on.
Reserve First-Five - Marty Banks (6/10)
Banks, a cult hero in the South Island, didn't repeat his heroics from the 2017 British and Irish Lions series, but controlled the game well. Most notably, he ran 16 metres and beat 4 defenders. Good 10-15 axis with Hunt as well.
Reserve Utility Back - Ngane Punivai (7/10)
Punivai, a former Crusader, has seriously gone to work on his defence. His 9 tackles included a massive hit on Stephen Perofeta, while Punivai also made a turnover. Though his attack from 13 wasn't effective, this was the best defensive performance of his career.