Blues frustrate Chiefs

The Blues held the Chiefs to a 16-16 draw in Auckland on Friday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.

Both teams had a chance to win this New Zealand derby, which was played in wet conditions. Aaron Cruden missed a difficult 68th-minute conversion and Piers Francis a relatively easy 72nd-minute penalty, while knock-ons in the final stages from both sides proved costly. In the end, they had to settle for two log points each.

The Chiefs came into this match as favourites, having earned 12 more log points than their opponents, despite having played one less game, but it soon become apparent that they would have to work hard for a win.

While Damian McKenzie and Francis exchanged early penalties, it would take until the 30th minute for the scoreboard to tick over again.

From a scrum, the Blues patiently attacked through the midfield before Rieko Ioane ran a good angle off Augustine Pulu's pass to score the opening try. Francis slotted the conversion and then added a 38th-minute penalty to give the hosts a 13-3 lead.

But the Chiefs regained possession from the restart and McKenzie burst through a hole in the defence to score in the corner. The conversion was missed, but the visitors who had enjoyed 54% of the possession and 65% of the territory, were right back in it.

Penalties by Francis and Cruden early in the second half made it 16-11, before the Chiefs drew level in the 68th minute after a brilliant counter-attack that began inside their 22. When McKenzie received possession near halfway he opted for a cross-kick, which sat up perfectly for Johnny Fa'auli, who dived over in the right-hand corner.

Cruden, though, missed the conversion, and Francis was off target with a penalty goal.

Then came the handling errors. The Blues attacked again with three minutes to go, only to knock on. The Chiefs did the same outside the Blues' 22 in the last minute of the game, to give the hosts another chance, but they too then lost possession as the rain pelted down.

Blues – Try: Rieko Ioane. Conversion: Piers Francis. Penalties: Francis (3).
Chiefs – Tries: Damian McKenzie, Johnny Fa'auli. Penalties: McKenzie, Aaron Cruden.

Blues – 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Subs: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 TJ Faiane.

Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Fa'auli, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-c), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Messam, 7 Sam Cane (co-c), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Solomon Alaimalo, 23 Shaun Stevenson.

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Simon Borchardt