The Blues survived an early onslaught from the Jaguares to win 24-16 in Albany on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
This was just the Blues' second win of the season and their first since beating the Highlanders in the opening round. The Jaguares began their first ever Super Rugby campaign with a win against the Cheetahs, but have now lost four in a row.
Once again, the Argentinian franchise failed to take the scoring opportunities that came their way. They were also unable to make their one-man advantage count during a 10-minute period in the first half, scoring just three points while conceding five.
The Jaguares totally dominated the first quarter of the match, enjoying 85% of the possession and 93% of the territory.
Early on, they twice put kickable penalties into the corner in search of a try. They should have been rewarded for that bold approach on the second occasion, but Matías Moroni was unable to collect Santiago González Iglesias's grubber through the defence, losing the ball over the tryline.
Soon after, the Blues forced a turnover to stop another promising attack, before the visitors got on the board through a penalty from González Iglesias.
On the 20-minute mark, the Blues gifted the Jaguares a 5m scrum when Lolagi Visinia kicked the ball into Steven Luatua, and it rebounded over the deadball line. The visitors attacked again from that set piece, with Tevita Li being yellow-carded for twice going offside. Instead of pushing for a try against 14 men, González Iglesias slotted his second penalty to make it 6-0.
The Blues then finally worked their way into the opposition 22, putting a kickable penalty into the corner and setting up a lineout driving maul. James Parsons knocked on with the tryline in sight but the hosts struck soon after. From a 5m scrum they took the ball through 14 phases before Luatua reached over to score a try that made it 6-5 after half an hour, with Li then returning to the field.
West missed the conversion but slotted a 37th-minute penalty to give his side an 8-6 lead. The Blues then struck a big blow when Rene Ranger offloaded well in the tackle to West, who took the ball at pace and raced away to score a converted try in the last play of the half.
González Iglesias kicked a penalty early in the second half to bring his side back within striking range.
The Blues responded with a promising 10-phase attack, which ended when Visinia's pass went into touch, but they got a 5m scrum when the Jaguares lineout throw did not go straight. After another 12 phases of attack, the hosts were awarded a penalty that West slotted to make it 18-9 after 54 minutes.
The Blues conceded a penalty from the restart, but González Iglesias's penalty attempt went wide and West's third penalty put his side 12 points ahead.
The Jaguares gave themselves hope when Nicolás Sánchez regathered his chip kick ahead. From the ruck, the ball went wide to Gonzalo Bertramou, who scored in the left-hand corner. Sánchez nailed the touchline conversion.
The Blues appeared to have hit back immediately after a poor clearance kick from the visitors. Ranger's grubber was collected by Visinia, with George Moala picking up the ball and scoring a 'try'. But TV replays showed Sánchez had done brilliantly to prevent the ball from being grounded, with Moala losing possession.
Blake Gibson couldn't collect West's chip kick into the corner soon after, but the referee was playing advantage and West made it 24-16.
The Blues were able to keep their hands on the ball for most of the remaining 10 minutes to secure the four log points, while the Jaguares came away with nothing.
Blues – Tries: Steven Luatua, Ihaia West. Conversion: West. Penalties: West (4).
Jaguares – Try: Gonzalo Bertramou. Conversion: Nicolás Sánchez. Penalties: Santiago González Iglesias (3).
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Rieko Ioane, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Joe Edwards, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Nic Mayhew.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Hoani Matenga, 20 Akira Ioane, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 George Moala.
Jaguares – 15 Ramiro Moyano, 14 Emiliano Boffelli, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Jerónimo de la Fuente, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Santiago González Iglesias, 9 Martín Landajo (c), 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Rodrigo Baez, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomás Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Julián Montoya, 1 Roberto Tejerizo.
Subs: 16 Facundo Bosch, 17 Santiago García Botta, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Juan Cruz Guillemaín, 20 Felipe Arregui, 21 Gonzalo Bertramou, 22 Nicolás Sánchez, 23 Joaquin Paz.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images