Highlanders 30 Blues 27
Hard to stop ... Mike Delaney's boot was the all important difference between the two sides. Photo: Getty Images
The Highlanders timed their run to perfection to close out a 30-27 win over the Blues in a see-sawing Super Rugby match at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Friday.
The under-siege Blues, with just one win from seven matches, secured a near-perfect start with a try in the first five minutes.
Shaun Treeby, left, rejoices after scoring the Highlanders' first try. Photo: Getty Images
Ma'a Nonu pounced on a Highlanders error behind the scrum, the Blues' quick recycling and support play ending with a try to Hadleigh Parkes in the corner.
The Highlanders didn't take long to respond, a well-worked set piece from the scrum unleashing Hosea Gear on a blistering midfield burst which was clinically finished by centre Shaun Treeby out wide.
With replacement No.10 Mike Delany in accurate kicking form, the Highlanders added a couple of penalties to lead 13-5 after 22 minutes.
But the Blues worked hard to counter the momentum shift, based on some superb scrummaging from the uncompromising front row of Tony Woodcock, Tom McCartney and Charlie Faumuina.
With more discipline and accuracy than they've shown recently, the Blues hauled the Highlanders back as five-eighth Gareth Anscombe slotted three successive penalties.
Another Delany penalty gave the Highlanders a narrow 16-14 lead at halftime but, with the restart, the procession of penalties continued.
Rene Ranger gave the Blues some breathing space when a perfectly-timed pop pass from replacement halfback Piri Weepu allowed him to barge through from close range for a five-pointer to put the Blues in front 27-22.
The Highlanders closed with yet another penalty to trail 27-25 at the 60-minute mark.
But then a defensive blunder between Ranger and Benson Stanley allowed Kurt Baker to touch down and the home team stole back the lead 30-27 with 12 minutes remaining.
The Blues dug deep in the closing minutes, forcing a series of scrums in an ultimately futile bid to snatch a late win.
HIGHLANDERS 30 (Kurt Baker, Shaun Treeby tries Michael Delany con 6 pens) bt BLUES 27 (Hadleigh Parkes, Rene Ranger tries Gareth Anscombe con 5 pens) at Forsyth Barr Stadium. Referee: Bryce Lawrence.