34 vs 28
The Blues finished their season with back-to-back wins over Australian sides as they beat the Waratahs 34-28, all but ending their campaign.
Despite picking up a losing bonus-point that takes them above the Brumbies in the conference, surely the men from Canberra can claim the point they need against the Force to progress into the Super Rugby play-off stage.
For the Waratahs it was always going to be a big ask to sneak into the knockout stage and in truth the bonus-point win never really looked on, with the Blues running out victors by five tries to four at Eden Park, Auckland.
Patrick Tuipulotu, a penalty try, Piers Francis, Melani Nanai and George Moala provided the five-pointers while in reply the ‘Tahs scores came through two penalty tries, Israel Folau and former Blues tighthead Angus Ta’avao.
It was no surprise the ‘Tahs snubbed kickable points from the outset as they knew a bonus-point victory was their best hope of progression.
The game being scoreless at 20 minutes wasn’t what they were hoping for though but when their scrum flexed its muscles near to the Blues line, things were looking up for Daryl Gibson’s side. In fact it led to a penalty try as referee Mike Fraser ran under the uprights for 0-7.
Undeterred the Blues remained calm – no doubt buoyed by last week’s win over the Brumbies – and crossed themselves four minutes later when Tuipulotu went over on the left wing after good work from Male Sa’u and Tevita Li assisting him. Francis missed the extras.
The impressive Francis made no such mistake on the half-hour mark when it was the Blues who were awarded a penalty try after their lineout drive was taken to ground. That meant it was 12-7 to the Blues which was how it stayed despite a late ‘Tahs surge in the half.
The visitors needed a strong start to the second period and that was what happened when another penalty try from a scrum put them 12-14 in front on 45 minutes. That levelled the try account with the Blues, so there was still a lot to do if they were to make the Brumbies sweat.
But the Blues were too good to roll over as they looked to finish their season on a high, so when Francis’ slalom run saw him go over on 49 minutes to cap a slick counter, suddenly they were back in front. Francis then kicked a penalty on 57 minutes which took them 22-14 up.
There was a trend developing at Eden Park as just when the Waratahs crossed for a try, the Blues would hit back and that was exactly what happened when Folau sliced through on 60 minutes only to have Blues full-back Nanai hit back just three minutes later to make it 29-21.
But the ‘Tahs weren’t done as with ten minutes remaining, replacement prop Ta’avao powered over to make it a one-point ball game in what was set to be a grandstand finish to the game as the visitors hunted the win.
True to form though they conceded soon after as another substitute, Moala, cruised over to put the Blues 34-28 which was how it ended.
BLUES – 34
Tries: Patrick Tuipulotu (25),Penalty Try (30),Piers Francis (48),Melani Nanai (63),George Moala (76)
Penalties: Piers Francis (57)
Cons: Piers Francis (31,49,64)
WARATAHS – 28
Tries: Penalty Try (22,44),Israel Folau (60),Angus Taavao-Matau (71)
Cons: Bernard Foley (22,45,61,72)
Blues: 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Male Sa’u, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley
Replacements: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Sione Mafileo/Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Blake Gibson, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt Vaega/George Moala, 23 Lolagi Visinia
Waratahs: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Rob Horne, 11 Matt Carraro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Dave Dennis, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Tom Robertson, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Paddy Ryan
Replacements: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Wycliff Palu, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 David Horwitz, 23 Jim Stewart
Date: Friday, July 15
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)