Blues outscored the Force by four tries to nil
The Blues ensured they will avoid the basement of the Super Rugby table when they eased past a sloppy Western Force team on Saturday.
Outscoring the Force by four tries to nil, the Blues scored an empathic 32-9 win in their penultimate match of the season, in Auckland.
It was a game devoid of enthusiasm. Auckland was cold, there was just a peppering of spectators and the players went through the motions - except for three who showed enthusiasm, two backs and a brave hooker.
The hooker was Nathan Charles, who gave his all for his wilting cause; the backs were new man Charles Piutau and old hand Ma'a Nonu. For the rest it looked like what it was - two lowly teams fulfilling their fixture.
Both teams, to be fair, have been much affected by injuries this year. The Force suffered the loss of iconic Nathan Sharpe to a back injury. He withdrew on the day of the match. Brett Sheehan captained the side.
While the Force lost their captain, the Blues got theirs back from injury - Keven Mealamu. The Blues resorted to recruiting Orene Ai'i, an intercontinental rugby mendicant, to help their cause. He got on late in the second half, chunkier than in his heyday but still bright-eyed.
The Blues were penalised three times in quick succession and Ben Seymour opened the scoring on the third, against Liaki Moli at a tackle - 3-0 after five minutes. A penalty against Will Tupou at a tackle gave Lachie Munro the chance to level the scores after eight minutes.
The first bit of life in the game came from a counterattack by Piutau off a grubber. Nonu raced down the left before playing back inside to Piutau. But that fizzled out.
A penalty against Tevita Mailau at a scrum enabled Seymour to put his side ahead again after 23 minutes.
One of the positive features of the match was Nonu's passing. He made the pinpoint, long pass look effortless and, after the Blues had been through several phases, he burst for the line, into big Napolioni Nalaga and down with Richard Brown, Charles and Alfie Mafi trying to stop him, but the TMO found the situation inconclusive, which led to a five-metre scrum.
From the scrum the Blues bashed and then went wide where big, young Steven Luatua ducked low into Nalaga and scored. 10-6 to the Blues after 30 minutes.
The Force attacked, Michael Hobbs marked and tried running without kicking the ball and Tony Woodcock was penalised at a tackle - 10-9 three minutes before half-time.
A long pass from Nonu should have produced an easy try for unmarked Rene Ranger with not far to go, but the big wing knocked on. Back they went for a maul infringement and Munro made the half-time score 13-9.
The Force came close to scoring for the first time in the match when Nalaga burst away on a 45-metre run, stopped six metres from the try-line.
The Blues won a turnover for an unsuccessful maul and attacked with Mealamu and Woodcock in the van. They went wide right where Piutau moved inwards and then skated around on the outside to leave Nalaga flat on his face as the mercurial fullback scored a try - 20-9 after 55 minutes.
The Blues came back on the attack immediately with a good run by Luke Braid on the left and then a burst by Peter Saili on the right. Saili played inside to Nonu who burst ahead and scored his 100th first class try - 27-9 after 57 minutes.
The Force had a scrum five metres from their own line. The Blues put them pressure on, the Force knocked on twice and Luke Braid scored his side's bonus-point try with nine minutes to play.
The Force got to the line but were held up.
Man of the Match: Ma'a Nonu for his zest, running, marvellous passing and robust tackling.
For the Blues:
Tries: Luatua, Piutau, Nonu, L Braid
Cons: Munro 3
Pens: Munro 2
For the Force:
Pens: Seymour 3
Blues: 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Lachie Munro 13 Francis Saili, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Michael Hobbs, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Luke Braid, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Andrew van der Heijden, 4 Liaki Moli, 3 Tevita Mailau, 2 Keven Mealamu (captain), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Chris Lowrey, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Orene Ai'i, 22 Hadleigh Parkes.
Western Force: 15 Alfie Mafi, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Will Tupou, 12 Winston Stanley, 11 Napolioni Nalaga, 10 Ben Seymour, 9 Brett Sheehan (captain), 8 Lachlan McCaffery, 7 Angus Cottrell, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Ollie Atkins, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Manu, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Anare Koliavu, 20 Josh Holmes, 21 Kyle Godwin, 22 Patrick Dellit.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jonathon White (New Zealand), Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)