Stephen Perofeta scored a 74th-minute try as the Blues secured a hard-fought 34-29 win over the Reds in Apia on Friday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
In the end, the Blues successfully claimed a seventh win of the season, but they certainly made hard work of it after losing their way after half-time, while finding themselves trailing by a couple of points heading into the final quarter.
When it mattered most, though, the Blues found a way to work their way back into the lead, with Perofeta finishing off a crucial try that came largely against the run of play late in the game.
In a hot and humid conditions in Samoa, the handling and accuracy from both sides left a lot to be desired in the opening stanza, but it would be the Blues that took a handy 20-12 lead into the break.
It initially looked as if the Reds would have no answer to an early Blues onslaught as Rene Ranger and Rieko Ioane ran in eye-catching tries within the opening 10 minutes, while the Aussies suffered a considerable injury blow when captain Samu Kerevi hobbled from the field.
To the Reds’ credit, though, they responded through the effective use of their powerful lineout drive, which ultimately resulted in tries to front-rowers Taniela Tupou and Andrew Ready.
However, the Blues really made most of the running in the first half (completing 289m to 92, 63 carries to 39 and beating six defenders to none), and were fully deserving of an eight-point advantage at the break after a third try to Kara Pryor and late penalty from Piers Francis.
Yet despite spending most of the first half on the back foot, the Reds came out of the break with renewed ambition, which saw them completely dominate the third quarter.
That ascendancy reaped reward in the form of a penalty to Quade Cooper, before replacement Adam Korczyk barged over next to the posts to suddenly send the Reds into a shock lead.
The Blues did manage to finally string a meaningful attack together and reclaimed the lead when lock Gerard Cowley-Tuioti finished off a well-worked try just after the hour mark, but the Reds immediately hit back from the restart as Tupou completed his brace.
It led to a tense finish as the Reds clung on to a tenuous lead, but the Blues finally secured the result when Perofeta add the finishing touches to a breakaway try.
Blues – Tries: Rene Ranger, Rieko Ioane, Kara Pryor, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Stephen Perofeta. Conversions: Piers Francis, Perofeta (2). Penalty: Francis.
Reds – Tries: Taniela Tupou (2), Andrew Ready, Adam Korczyk. Conversions: Quade Cooper (3). Penalty: Cooper.
Blues – 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Declan O'Donnell, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Alex Hodgman.
Subs: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 Jordan Trainor.
Reds – 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi (c), 12 Duncan Paia'aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Lukhan Tui, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Andrew Ready, 1 Sef Fa'agase.
Subs: 16 Alex Maf, 17 Kirwan Sanday, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Caleb Timu, 22 Nick Frisby, 23 Jake McIntyre.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images