Jerome Kaino and Matt Duffie each scored two tries to guide the Blues to a 40-15 bonus-point win over the Brumbies in Auckland on Friday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
The result places the Brumbies' playoff participation in jeopardy and they now have to beat the Force next weekend, and hope the Waratahs lose one of their two remaining matches, to qualify.
The Blues, the weakest performing team in the New Zealand conference, were full value for their victory over the best performing side in the Australian conference. They were all over the Brumbies like a rash and despite conceding an 11th-minute penalty try and a yellow card, the hosts scored two unanswered tries when they were down to 14 men.
Knowing they were not in the running for a spot in the knockout stage of the tournament, the Blues had the licence to play more freely, an approach that sunk the cautious Brumbies.
Like they did against the Hurricanes in Wellington last weekend, the Blues exerted relentless pressure on the Brumbies during the early stages as they bullied their counterparts at the breakdowns, in the collisions and in the back division on their way to accumulating a 28-7 advantage. Though the visitors regrouped to close the deficit to 28-15 at the break, the Blues were just too good on the day to let them back into the game completely, ultimately outscoring the visitors six tries to two.
The Brumbies defence was in disarray from the get-go as they struggled to keep up with the speed of the Blues attack. Jerome Kaino was first to score when he was on the end of Ihaia West's well-weighted kick-pass inside the 22. The next came courtesy of captain James Parsons, who shrewdly went around the short side from a lineout, when the Brumbies were expecting a drive.
Derived of possession and territory until that point, a sequence of penalties against the Blues helped the Brumbies into the 22. They set a lineout, but Kaino cynically collapsed a storming maul which resulted in a penalty try and a yellow card.
However, the Brumbies' impotency was of such a nature that they failed to make the personnel advantage count, while the Blues carried on like they were not handicapped.
Next to capitalise against the weak Brumbies defence was lock Sam Prattley, who finished off a move that started in their own half and Matt Duffie, who benefited from Steven Luatua's charge down the right flank. Just as it started to look ominous, the Brumbies responded with an eight-point haul via a try by Matt Toomua and a penalty to finish the half on a positive note.
But any momentum they might have gained was firmly squashed at the start of a much quieter second half. The Blues began in the same vein and reaped the rewards four minutes after the restart when Kaino barged over for his second try of the match and fourth in two weeks.
The Brumbies improved defensively thereafter, managing to keep the Blues attack at bay, while also pressurising them in the scrum. But the Blues' defensive lines were equally impressive and they too didn't concede points.
Replacement centre Matt Vaega came on and scored a wonder try, but it was disallowed when replays confirmed a foot in touch in the buildup. Duffie then stepped up to complete his brace and the Blues' rout, which puts a massive dent in the Brumbies' playoff aspirations.
Blues – Tries: Jerome Kaino (2), James Parsons, Sam Prattey, Matt Duffie (2). Conversions: Piers Francis (5).
Brumbies – Tries: Penalty try, Matt Toomua. Conversion: Christian Leali'ifano. Penalty: Leali'ifano.
Blues – 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Male Sa'u/Matt Vaega, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Bekhuis/Scott Scrafton, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Blake Gibson, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt Vaega/Michael Little, 23 Lolagi Visinia.
Brumbies – 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Nigel Ah Wong, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Christian Leali'ifano (c), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Blake Enever, 20 Tam Staniforth, 21 Joe Powell, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Lausii Taliauli.
Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images