WELLINGTON (AFP) – Two tries to Dalton Papali’i and the muscle of Hoskins Sotutu helped the Auckland Blues maintain their unbeaten run in New Zealand’s Super Rugby competition when they came from behind to beat the Otago Highlanders 27-24 yesterday.
Sotutu’s power to twice deny the Highlanders late scoring opportunities would have impressed not only the All Blacks selectors but also those in England and Fiji.
The uncapped 21-year-old backrower is shaping up as a likely replacement for the now retired Kieran Read but with a Fijian father and English mother he is an obvious target for all three countries.
After Papali’i’s second try put the Blues ahead midway through the second half, the Highlanders staged repeated attacks on the Aucklanders’ line.
But in the closing minutes, a strong lineout drive was held up by Sotutu who then stole Highlanders ball at the next lineout to ensure the Blues victory.
Captain Patrick Tuipulotu said the Aucklanders have found a self-confidence that was missing when they were one of the worst performing New Zealand sides.
“A couple of years ago, even last year we weren’t able to hang on we didn’t have the composure. I’m proud of the fact we managed to do that now,” he said.
“We’re comfortable backing our defence for long periods of time.”