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Highlanders win to maintain playoff hopes
07:21 AEST Sun May 27 2012

The Highlanders have broken their Eden Park drought and maintained their challenge for the Super Rugby playoffs with a bonus-point 27-20 victory over the hapless Blues.

The Highlanders tasted only their second success at the Auckland ground, and their first since 2002, on Saturday night.

Two of their four tries went to eight-Test winger Hosea Gear, who this week turned down a lucrative Japanese contract in a bid to press his claims for a return to the All Blacks.

The win lifted the Highlanders into the top six and they will stay there if South African conference leaders Stormers beat the Sharks in the last match of the round.

"We wanted to play a bit of field position because it was a bit dewy out here tonight and the Blues are pretty dangerous," Highlanders captain Jamie Mackintosh said.

"We weren't working hard enough in the first half. They came out desperate, created a lot of opportunities and were playing really well. We were just lucky enough to score those tries just before and just after halftime and that made a big difference."

Blues coach Pat Lam made several changes to his starting 15, including benching experienced All Blacks Ali Williams, Ma'a Nonu and Piri Weepu, but the move couldn't prevent an 11th defeat of the season.

All three did get on in the second half, lock Williams notching up 100 Super Rugby appearances, while Nonu showed plenty of energy after he was introduced.

"We had a few young guys in there making their first starts and they played really well," Blues captain Luke Braid said. "A few of the big boys came on in the second half and really turned things on but we just fell short."

After the sides traded early penalties, the Highlanders hit the front with a long-range try that began with hooker Andrew Hore snaring a turnover and ended with centre Tamati Ellison getting to his own kick-ahead to dot down.

The visitors crossed again through a slick backline move finished off by Gear, who completed his double a minute into the second spell after a big break by fullback Ben Smith.

The bonus-point try was a soft one, with Blues hooker James Parsons' throw from a defensive lineout going straight to opposition flanker Adam Thomson, who found no one between him and the line.

A yellow card to Highlanders centre Phil Burleigh for a professional foul sparked a late Blues comeback.

Props Tevita Mailau, when the Blues were a man up, and Tony Woodcock, three minutes from time, both got over the line, but it was too little, too late for the home side.