Highlanders stand-in skipper Hosea Gear's hat-trick wasn't enough to deny the Blues in Queenstown tonight with a late penalty from Baden Kerr stealing a 31-29 win.
The Highlanders had come back from trailing 28-19 at halftime to lead 29-28 and looked to have sealed the win before Kerr knocked over the game-winner in front of a crowd of about 4000 at the Queenstown Recreation Ground with less than two minutes left on the clock.
Gear has had a strong preseason campaign leading the Highlanders in the absence of the suspended Andrew Hore.
His three tries last night made it five in the past three weeks after he struggled to get across the line at all for the Highlanders last year.
The Blues made a strong start to the game, dominating possession and scoring tries through Culum Retallick and George Moala before the Highlanders were even able to get some decent field position.
Despite losing Nasi Manu to the bin for a breakdown offence, the Highlanders were able to hit back through Jarrad Hoeta.
The Blues scored further tries to Tom McCartney and Piri Weepu, with Joe Wheeler and Hosea Gear getting over for the Highlanders as the Blues lead 28-19 at halftime.
Gear's first try was arguably the best of the half, the ball swinging both ways before he crossed.
The second half was a tighter affair with Gear's second and third tries the only points until the Blues were awarded a late penalty in front of the posts and quickly signalled that they were going to take the shot.
The Highlanders open their campaign against the Chiefs in Dunedin on Friday, while the Blues take on the Hurricanes the following night.
Blues 31 (Culum Retallick, George Moala, Tom McCartney, Piri Weepu tries; Weepu 4 con, Baden Kerr pen)
Highlanders 29 (Jarrad Hoeata, Joe Wheeler, Hosea Gear 3 tries; Hayden Parker 2 con)
- Fairfax Media
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