The Blues claimed an 18-12 bonus-point win against the Brumbies in Canberra to extend New Zealand rugby's unbeaten run against Aussie sides in 2017. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Brumbies continue to lead the Australian conference, and thus continue to occupy a top-two place in the Australasian group. However, If not for the conference system, the Brumbies would rank lower than the worst-placed side in New Zealand.
The Blues outscored the Brumbies by three tries to zero on Sunday. The result marked a 15th-straight win for New Zealand Super Rugby sides against Australian opposition in 2017.
The Brumbies battled at the set pieces and on defence. They were eventually breached in the 30th minute when Matt Duffie took an offload from George Moala and reached for the line to score.
The game was still in the balance at half-time, with the Blues holding an 8-3 lead. In the second stanza, the Blues began to assert themselves to greater effect.
Whareni Hawera kicked four penalties in all to keep his side in the hunt. Opposite number Bryn Gatland, a late replacement for the injured Piers Francis, missed three attempts on goal.
That said, the Blues forwards succeeded in providing their backs with a strong platform. The visitors set a maul 5m out from the Brumbies' line, and Akira Ioane powered over to score.
The Blues turned down several shots on goal in the subsequent 15 minutes. A penalty would have provided the Blues with some breathing room in what was a tight fixture. The Blues made it clear that they wanted the third try and the bonus point, though.
The breakthrough arrived in the 68th minute. Melani Nanai took the final pass from Duffie to score the simplest of tries. Again, credit must be given to the forwards for subduing their Brumbies counterparts.
The Brumbies enjoyed one final opportunity to win the game. The attacking movement came to a disappointing end, however, when captain Sam Carter knocked the ball on.
Brumbies – Penalties: Wharenui Hawera (4).
Blues – Tries: Matt Duffie, Akira Ioane, Melani Nanai. Penalty: Bryn Gatland.
Brumbies – 15 Tom Banks, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Andrew Smith, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Lolo Fakaosilea, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Nic Mayhew.
Subs: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Les Leuluaialii-Makin, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 De Wet Roos, 22 Jordan Jackson-Hope, 23 Aidan Toua.
Blues – 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Bryn Gatland, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Leighton Price, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 TBC , 23 Melani Nanai.
Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images