Nic White missed a penalty after the hooter as the Blues secured a narrow 16-14 win over the Brumbies in Auckland on Friday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
The victory was their first in eight attempts this season, and came despite a spirited second-half fightback from the visitors. Having led 13-0 at the break, the Blues found themselves trailing 14-13 with just two minutes remaining, but replacement flyhalf Ihaia West kept his cool to slot a touchline penalty to hand his side a morale-boosting win, and coach John Kirwan a welcome reprieve.
It was a match of two halves, as the Blues dominated proceedings in the first half, before a combination of anxiety and smart play from the Brumbies allowed the visitors back into the match after the break.
The Brumbies contributed to their own downfall with a torrid first-half display. They were ponderous in possession, and guilty of ill-discipline in a number of areas, not least the breakdown. The penalty count of seven to one at half-time allowed the Blues to build pressure, both in terms of territory and on the scoreboard.
They were full value for their 13-0 lead at the break, as two Dan Bowden penalties and a converted try gave them a solid buffer.
The Brumbies finally got on the scoreboard at the start of the second half as Christian Leali'ifano, who had earlier missed a sitter, slotted a penalty after the Blues were ruled offside.
The visitors were making all the play and, after taking the ball through 25 phases, scrumhalf White found Lausii Taliauli lurking unmarked on the wing to send him in for a try.
David Pocock, who was penalised on a couple occasions during the first half, became more influential during the second stanza, winning his side a number of crucial penalties at the breakdown.
A Leali'ifano penalty brought the Brumbies within two points with 12 minutes remaining, before a 74th-minute penalty looked to have handed them victory.
However, the Blues showed great resolve to work their way back into Brumbies territory and create the opportunity for West, before White's late miss sparked celebrations at the final whistle.
Blues – Try: Dan Bowden. Penalties: Bowden (2), Ihaia West.
Brumbies – Try: Lausii Taliauli. Penalties: Christian Leali'ifano (3).
Blues – 15 Charles Piutau, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Dan Bowden, 9 Jamison Gibson-Park, 8 Jerome Kaino (c), 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Luke Braid, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons, 1 Ofa Tu'ungafasi.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Steven Luatua, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Francis Saili.
Brumbies – 15 Robbie Coleman, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Henry Speight, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Jarrad Butler, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Blake Enever, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 JP Smith, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Ita Vaea, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Lausii Taliauli, 23. Nigel Ah Wong.
Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images