Bonus-point start for Kirwan
Sat, 23 Feb 2013 08:20
Four tries to two for the Blues
New Blues coach John Kirwan got his career at the Auckland franchise off to a winning start, when they recorded a comfortable 34-20 win over the Hurricanes.
The four-tries-to-two bonus-point win showed the three-time former champions are going to be a real force under the guidance of the former All Black wing - who has World Cup-winning former All Black coach Graham Henry among his backroom staff.
However, it's a pity that the most talked-about aspect of this match will be a penalty try - a pity because so much happened in the match that was remarkable - another great New Zealand derby, a North Island one this time, Auckland vs Wellington, both exciting teams.
It is strange that only about 10 000 people pitched at Westpac Stadium for the match - a few currants in a yellow sponge cake.
The penalty try happened at a crucial time in the match when the youthful Blues were leading 16-13.
Beauden Barrett kicked a long way downfield on the left. The ball bounced into the Blues' in-goal as two speedsters, Frank Halai and Julian Savea, dived for the ball, each with an arm outstretched, a hand seeking contact. Halai's hand hit the ball and knocked it over the dead-ball line.
The referee consulted the TMO whose advice was that Halai's act had been deliberate and then added that if he was "taken out of the equation" Savea would have scored and so a penalty try was awarded and Halai was sent to the sin bin. That took the Hurricanes into a 20-16 lead.
Whether the Hurricanes felt shamed or the Blues charged with resolution, that was the Hurricanes last score in the match while the Blues scored a winning 18 points.
It was a stern contest all right, especially at the tackle where despite penalties, the ball remained on the slow side. What was fascinating was how much line-outs counted.
The first try of the match, scored by Halai, was from a line-out - quick delivery and three passes was all it took. From the next line-out Conrad Smith was tackled about three metres from the Blues' line. From the next line-out the Hurricanes went left-right-left and Savea scored in the corner. From the next line-out, Conrad Smith broke and gave inside to TJ Perenara, who bashed ahead but lost the ball near the line. It was wonderful but then there was little contest in the line-outs which went with the throw.
The Hurricanes kicked more than the Blues did and they kicked poorly. Beauden Barrett's kicks were merely unprofitable transfers of possession while the Blues were happier running. As a result Charles Piutau had a lot to do, Andre Taylor next to nothing to do.
But Barrett's kicking at goal was excellent. If Piri Weepu had been as accurate the Blues would have won by far, far more.
But for the rest of his game, Weepu, slimmer than last year, was excellent - always at the breakdown, making quick decisions. It must have been a great way for him to celebrate his 100th Super Rugby Match - of which 84 had been for the Hurricanes.
Both flyhalves found tackling difficult but Chris Noakes was much better with the ball in hand. His subtle dummy and acceleration was the first attacking moment in the game. Barrett tackled him but was penalised in the tackle/ruck and Weepu goaled. 3-0 after 3 minutes.
Peter Saili dropped the kick-off and the Hurricanes were bashing at the line. Peter Saili was penalised at a tackle and Barrett levelled the scores at 3-3 after 7 minutes. After Weepu had missed an easy kick, the Blues were penalised at a scrum and Barrett goaled. 6-3 to the Hurricanes after 18 minutes.
Then came the remarkable sequence of line-outs. Halai scored from the first - 8-6 to the Blues after 21 minutes, Savea from the third - 13-8 to the Hurricanes after 26 minutes.
On the stroke of half-time Ben Franks was penalised at a tackle and Weepu goaled to make the score 13-11 to the Hurricanes at the break.
Noakes broke inside Barrett to set the Blues attacking. They had a kickable penalty but opted for a five-metre line-out and attacked till their hands let them down., They came back in phases with Noakes prominent. They went wide right where Piutau had an easy run-in for a try. 16-13 to the Blues after 49 minutes.
The Blues came close when Piutau gave to George Moala but the wing was tackled into touch.
Then came the penalty try and the yellow card which seemed as if the guillotine had dropped on Auckland's Blues. But it was not the case as even with 14 men they dominated the match.
Francis Saili had a scything break but Halai on the right wing was absent. Piutau then forced the half gap and gave to Ranger but Karl Lowe was penalised at a tackle and Weepu made it 20-19 after 60 minutes.
Noakes kicked a long and brilliant penalty into touch for a line-out five metres from the Hurricanes' line. The Blues mauled and bashed. Tom McCartney was close and so was Halai in the face of stout defence and then René Ranger forced his way to ground the ball on the line for the try. 24-20 with 9 minutes to play.
Victor Vito was close at the left corner, the ball bouncing off the cornerpost and the Hurricanes were attacking with promising phases when Moala intercepted and set off. Taylor hauled him down 70 metres later but Moala got the ball to Ranger and from there is went far right to Tongan Halai who beat Savea on the inside and scored in Brendon O'Connor's tackle. 31-20 with four minutes to go. That try earned the Blues a bonus point.
The last four minutes were helter-skelter till Savea was penalised at a tackle and Weepu goaled to end the match at 34-20, a triumph for John Kirwan's young, enthusiastic team. Veteran captain Ali Williams said afterwards: "We're just starting." But he was full of praise for the cohesive spirit in the team.
Man of the Match: It might cause family friction if you chose one the Saili brothers. You would be prudent to choose Chris Noakes for his skill on the tack and you could choose bustling Steven Luatua or aggressive Charles Piutau, but our Man of the Match, despite his goal-kicking but because of his quick, calm directing of play is Piri Weepu of 100 Super Rugby matches.
For the Hurricanes:
Tries: Savea, Penalty try
Cons: Barrett 2
Pens: Barrett 2
For the Blues:
Tries: Halai 2, Piutau, Ranger
Pens: Weepu 3
Yellow card: Frank Halai (Blues, 55 - professional foul, preventing a probable try)
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (captain), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Brad Shields, 7 Karl Lowe, 6 Victor Vito, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Ben May, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Reggie Goodes, 18 Mark Reddish, 19 Faifili Levave, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 James Marshall, 22 Reynold Lee-Lo.
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: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Liaki Moli, 19 Brendon O'Connor, 20 Bryn Hall, 21 Baden Kerr, 22 Jackson Willison.
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Nick Briant (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
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