Highlanders hitting their straps at the business end

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Whether, with only one game remaining that, is enough to claim a final is down to mathematical variations, but whatever happens, it is a sign of a team on the rise.

 

Coach Tony Brown said it was a better performance than they produced a week earlier, and it came down to execution and intent.

 

"They are physical boys and we had to be really good defensively. We had to be good at the breakdown, and that was probably the best it has been all year," he said.

 

Their turnover percentage had been 17 per cent, and if you were able to achieve that, you won games, he said.

 

"The loose forward trio was outstanding…our loose forwards have always been our strength and point of difference as a rugby team, and they are playing good rugby."

 

But it had been a complete team effort. The Highlanders had been desperate and were able to force the Blues into errors, he said.

 

Brown also praised the experience lock Bryn Evans brought to the side and the leadership he demonstrated on the field.

 

Having scored another try from a lineout variation, Brown acknowledged the work forwards coach Clarke Dermody, and assistant coach Riki Flutey were doing around developing attacking moves they could score from.

 

"If you're scoring from first phase, from lineouts, the game becomes a lot easier," he said.

 

 

Captain Ash Dixon said the Highlanders believe they are still a chance in the competition.

 

"We managed to beat the team that is coming second, and we have beaten the top team. Imagine if we had beaten those other teams, then we would be in with a chance.

 

"There was just more will out there tonight. I think you can see in this competition, you've got to try to be consistent to be a great team. We've had games and moments where we have been great, and then moments we have been poor.

 

"We are a bit licorice all-sorts at times, but we were on tonight," he said.

 

Blues coach Leon MacDonald said they had prepared for a tough game and were disappointed with the outcome.

 

He felt the try conceded in first-half injury time had been a key moment while penalties conceded in the first half had been 'momentum stoppers', he said.

 

"It's disappointing. We worked hard on that part of our game, it was a big part of our week," he said.

 

The Blues were still in the competition and believed they were good enough to beat anybody. They had created opportunities and should have scored more tries, but there had been moments where critical decisions let them down.

 

The 80-minute performance was still proving elusive.

 

"We were better in a lot of those areas but not good enough," he said.

 

Now, they have to pick themselves up to stay in the competition. They have an away game next week against the Crusaders and a home game against the Chiefs remaining.

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