Despite a Hosea Gear hat-trick, the Highlanders went down 31-29 to the Blues in their final pre-season hit-out in Queenstown on Friday.
Both sides showed some nice skills at times but it was a game where accuracy was missing too often and option-taking could have been better.
It was a typical pre-season match as both sides looked to perfect combinations with the season starting off proper next week.
The Blues led 28-19 at the break, and clinched the match with a penalty goal by Baden Kerr in the final minute.
The Highlanders set-piece struggled throughout the game and failed to put much together in the way of continuity.
The Blues burst out of the blocks but faded as the game went on as their key players left the field.
The home side failed to finish off at times although skipper Hosea Gear could not be faulted as he grabbed his hat trick of tries.
Gear, skippering the side in the absence of Andrew Hore, looked dangerous while inside him Ma'a Nonu was his usual hard-running self.
All Black scrumhalf Piri Weepu looked good for the Blues on his time on the field while No.8 Peter Saili got through plenty of work.
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Gear 3, Hoeata, Wheeler
Cons: Parker 2
For the Blues:
Tries: Retallick, Moala, McCartney, Weepu
Cons: Weepu 4
Highlanders: 15 Buxton Popoalii, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Phil Burleigh, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear (captain), 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Joe Wheeler, 5 Jarrad Hoeata, 4 Ma'afu Fia, 3 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements - from: Jason Emery, Fumiaki Tanaka, Shaun Treeby, Trent Renata, Frae Wilson, Hugh Blake, Tim Boys, Liam Coltman, Tom Franklin, Paul Grant, Chris King, Jamie Mackintosh, Bronson Murray.
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Francis Saili, 11 George Moala, 10 Chris Noakes, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Peter Saili, 7 Luke Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Ali Williams (captain), 4 Culum Retallick, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Tom McCartney.
Replacements - from: Quentin MacDonald, Angus Ta'avao, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Liaki Moli, Ronald Raaymakers, Sean Polwart, Kane Barrett, Joe Edwards, Bryn Hall, Jackson Willison, Baden Kerr, Marty McKenzie, Pita Ahki.
Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant referees: Kane McBride, Mike Lash
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