Otere Black contributed 15 points to help the Blues claim a 30-20 win over the Hurricanes in Auckland on Sunday.
After the sensational opening game of the tournament between the Highlanders and the Chiefs on Saturday, you’d think it was too tough an act to live up to and match in terms of dramatic action. But the Blues and the Hurricanes produced a memorable encounter, proving yet again that no New Zealand derby is ever a dull affair.
Coming into this clash, the match in itself was the main story line, but this fixture was riddled with sub-plots and none bigger than Blues fullback Beauden Barrett fronting his former team and teammates.
But with all eyes on Barrett, it was another former Hurricanes player, Otere Black, who stepped up and put the boot into his former team with a perfect seven from seven goal-kicking display.
With that in mind, the Auckland-based side will be pleased to have secured the result despite an uncharacteristically slow start.
The Hurricanes made an utterly dominant start to this clash, bossing both territory and possession, while opening up a 3-0 lead within the opening 10 minutes via the boot of Jackson Garden-Bachop.
Despite all that good work, though, the Canes then coughed up a lineout just outside their 22, and from virtually their first attack, the Blues scored through wing Caleb Clarke after a brilliant linebreak and offload from centre Rieko Ioane. Moments later though, the visitors again exposed the Blues’ defence resulting in Dane Coles bustling his way over from about eight metres out and running right over the top Barrett to score in the corner.
To make matters worse for the mercurial Barrett, he was swallowed up in the Hurricanes celebrations and could only answer with a wry smile once he was set free from the opposition’s celebratory huddle.
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Be that as it may, that try sparked an increase in the end-to-end action and soon both teams added a try, but because Garden-Bachop failed to convert both his attempts, the Hurricanes trailed 14-13 at the break.
As it is, the half-time stats showed that the Blues were fully deserved of their lead as they had made 229m to 148, beat 13 defenders to eight and forced the Hurricanes to make 40 tackles, of which they missed 13.
But while it had been a tightly-contested first half, there was a clear momentum shift, and as the pressure began to build on the Canes, so Barrett came more into the game at second receiver alongside flyhalf Black. The Blues pinned the Hurricanes in their own half, before landing another blow through replacement Dalton Papali’i who casually latched onto a well disguised grubber kick for their third touchdown.
Finding themselves suddenly trailing 21-13, the Hurricanes’ discipline evaporated. They conceded several penalties and Black kept up his flawless kicking display with three consecutive penalty kicks to push the Blues’ advantage out to 13 points.
Looking void of ideas, the Hurricanes turned to their bench and brought on their reinforcements, including flank Ardie Savea and highly rated hooker Asafo Aumua. But even those changes didn’t stop them from being dominated by the Blues forwards and run down by their backs.
Although the Canes would narrow the deficit late in the game with a third try, it was merely a consolation effort that served to put a little more respectability on the scoreboard.
Blues – Tries : Caleb Clarke, TJ Faiane, Dalton Papali’i. Conversions: Otere Black (3). Penalties: Black (3).
Hurricanes – Tries: Dane Coles, Ben Lam, Jamie Booth. Conversion: Jackson Garden-Bachop. Penalty: Garden-Bachop.
Blues – 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Subs: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Ezekiel Lindenmuth, 18 Marcel Renata, 19 Gerad Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Dalton Papalii, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie.
Hurricanes – 15 Chase Tiatia, 14 Wes Goosen, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 TJ Perenara (co-captain), 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Du’Plessis Kirifi, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Scott Scrafton, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Dane Coles (co-captain), 1 Fraser Armstrong.
Subs: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Tevita Mafileo, 18 Alex Fidow, 19 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20 Vaea Fifita, 21 Ardie Savea, 22 Jamie Booth, 23 Billy Proctor.
Photo: Getty Images