Blues stroll past Chiefs
PRE-SEASON REPORT: The Blues capped off their pre-season with an impressive 26-14 victory over the Chiefs 26-14 in Alexandra Park on Friday.
The soggy pitch couldn't dampen the fiery encounter, which was played at home base after the earlier closure of Shadbolt Park at Suburbs Rugby Club forced the sudden relocation of the match, and health and safety reasons prevented us from opening it up to the general public.
Starting with a moment of silence for much-loved former All Black and Chiefs loose forward Sione Lauaki before kick-off, the Blues dominated the opening exchanges, utterly destroying a Chiefs scrum before winger Matt Duffie scored a try between the posts after just five minutes.
Then it was like Groundhog Day a few minutes later when the Blues destroyed another Chiefs scrum, and Duffie scored his second try in the corner, deftly placing the ball in-goal as he went flying into touch.
But the Chiefs scrum improved as the match went on, and soon it was the Blues under pressure, holding out countless waves of attack as the visitors tried to bust down the immovable blue wall. Finally, Brodie Retallick found a way through and Aaron Cruden converted it.
That would be the last time the Chiefs would score until late in the second half.
Soon after, Ihaia West scored a stunning breakaway try from halfway, which he converted himself, before a Gerard Cowley-Tuioti try and another conversion from West made it 26-7 at half-time.
The Blues carried on as they left off in the second half, but a much-improved defensive effort by the Chiefs turned the match into an arm wrestle. Both teams were held scoreless until Latu Vaeno scored for the Chiefs with five minutes to go.
But it was the Blues' all-round performance - not the result - that impressed head coach Tana Umaga the most.
His team was hot on attack, strong on defence, and the match marked the welcome return to action for All Blacks Charlie Faumuina and Ofa Tu'ungafasi, as well as the injury-plagued TJ Faiane.
"There's a lot of positives we can take out of the game," he said.
"I'm also happy with the way Ihaia West was running the game, as well as Piers Francis out the back."
It bodes well for an exciting Super Rugby campaign ahead, which kicks off when the Blues face the Rebels in Melbourne next Thursday, February 23.
For the Blues:
Tries: Duffie 2, West, Cowley-Tuioti
Cons: West 3
For the Chiefs:
Tries: Retallick, Vaeno
Cons: Cruden, Laulala
Backs: Michael Collins (Otago), Matt Duffie (North Harbour), TJ Faiane (Auckland), Billy Guyton (Tasman), Rieko Ioane (Auckland), Matt Vaega (North Harbour), George Moala (Auckland), Melani Nanai (Auckland), Sam Nock (Northland), Declan O'Donnell (Taranaki), Stephen Perofeta (Taranaki), Augustine Pulu (Counties Manukau), Rene Ranger (North Harbour), Jordon Trainor (Waikato), Ihaia West (Hawkes Bay), Sonny Bill Williams (Counties Manukau), Piers Francis (Counties Manukau).
Forwards: Gerard Cowley-Tuioti (North Harbour), Epalahame Faiva (Waikato), Charlie Faumuina (Auckland), Blake Gibson (Auckland), Josh Goodhue (Northland), Alex Hodgman (Canterbury), Akira Ioane (Auckland), Jerome Kaino (Auckland), Steven Luatua (Auckland), Sione Mafileo (North Harbour), Pauliasi Manu (Counties Manukau), Matt Moulds (Northland), Brandon Nansen (North Harbour), James Parsons (North Harbour), Sam Prattley (Auckland), Kara Pryor (Northland), Scott Scrafton (Auckland), Murphy Taramai (North Harbour), Patrick Tuipulotu (Auckland), Jimmy Tupou (Counties Manukau), Ofa Tu'ungafasi (Auckland).
Chiefs: 15 Shaun Stevenson, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Mitchell Karpik, 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Samisoni Tuake'iaho, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements - from: Hika Elliot, Sosefo Kautai, Atu Moli, Jonathan Taumateine, Findlay Christie, Dwayne Sweeney, Siegfried Fisiihoi, Mitchell Brown, Lachlan Boshier, Matiaha Martin, Latu Vaeno, Solomon Alaimalo, Tim Nanai-Williams, Aidan Ross.