AUCKLAND, April 20 (Reuters) - Loose forward Shannon Frizell scored three tries and set up another with a brilliant offload as the Otago Highlanders extended the Auckland Blues’ losing streak against New Zealand sides with a 34-16 victory at Eden Park on Friday.
The Blues have not won a local derby since they recorded a 33-31 victory over the Highlanders in the first week of the 2016 Super Rugby season, a run of 15 matches — 14 of them losses.
Scrumhalf Kayne Hammington was the beneficiary of Frizell’s offload as he was being tackled by Akira Ioane, after flanker Dillon Hunt scored the opening Highlanders try inside the first minute when he charged down Bryn Gatland’s clearing kick.
Scrumhalf Jonathan Ruru and replacement back Tumua Manu scored tries for the Blues, while Gatland added two penalties for the home side, who are in the midst of an injury crisis that has left them with 18 players unavailable for selection.
The Highlanders got off to a fast start with two fortuitous tries inside the first five minutes when Hunt set the ball rolling by charging down Gatland’s clearance after less than 40 seconds.
Frizell then scored his first try from a well-worked lineout move but appeared to have grounded the ball short, had another go for the line and was still short, but then got driven over by arriving players.
The Highlanders then appeared to be content to make the Blues play with the ball and live off turnovers and counter-attack opportunities.
The home side were industrious in possession but as has been the case so often in recent seasons, lacked the finishing polish.
Despite this, they fought back to 12-11 after 22 minutes following Ruru’s try and Gatland’s two penalties.
Frizell’s second try, however, showcased what the Highlanders could do with the ball if they built phases, with the blindside flanker finishing off a brilliant team try in the corner as they went into the break with a 20-11 lead.
The 24-year-old Frizell sparked the scoring in the second half with his offload as he was being driven towards the sideline in a strong tackle by Ioane, Hammington receiving the final pass from Tevita Li and stretching out to score.
Frizell then completed his hat-trick and put the game beyond doubt at 34-11 when All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith, making a rare appearance from the bench, added some punch and put him into space less than 10 metres from the line.
Manu scored a consolation try as Blues coach Tana Umaga emptied his bench. The fifth win in seven games lifts the Highlanders to 24 points, while the Blues lost their sixth game in eight to prop up the New Zealand conference on 12 points. (Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington; Editing by John O’Brien)