The Blues scored two unanswered tries to beat the Chiefs 24-12 on Saturday to secure their first win in Hamilton since 2011.
The two fixtures in the opening round of New Zealand’s Aotearoa set impossibly high standards, and while this match didn’t quite replicate the same action, the quality of the contest was just as high as last week’s games.
The Blues and Chiefs had enjoyed mixed fortunes in round one, with the former clinching a thrilling win and the latter slumping to dramatic defeat at the end. Be that as it may, it’s the Chiefs who’ve had the upper hand in this fixture in the past, winning 15 of the 17 meetings against the Blues. But it was the visitors who came out on top this time around to improve their win-loss ratio against the Chiefs and claim a first win in Hamilton in nine years.
No one team had outplayed the other outright. It was more a case of one side (the Blues) making better use of their chances than the other (the Chiefs). Blues No 8 Hoskins Sotutu was in fine form, causing the Chiefs all sorts of problems on attack, defence, at the breakdown and especially at the lineout. For the Chiefs, Damian McKenzie and Anton Lienert-Brown were influential without being dominant.
Apart from the Blues having an opportunity in the first minute and fluffing it, it was the Chiefs who made the better start. They repeatedly hit gaping holes in the Blues defence allowing them to keep the visitors on the back foot and pinned in their own half. But for all their dominance, the Blues defence withstood the onslaught. Eventually, in the 12th minute, Damian McKenzie booted the hosts in front with a penalty. It might not have been the greatest reward for all their territory and possession, but it was reward nonetheless.
But soon the Blues settled into a rhythm and hit their stride. After the Chiefs conceded a penalty and Beauden Barrett found touch to set up an attacking lineout five metres from the tryline, the Blues orchestrated a patient buildup before Hoskins burrowed over from close range for the opening try.
The game ebbed and flowed with the kickers trading successful and unsuccessful kicks for a 10-9 half-time score in favour of the Blues. But it could’ve been a different scenario altogether had the Chiefs not continuously – and bizarrely – opted to turn down easy points on offer right in front of goal to set up attacking lineouts, which would eventually result in nothing. More bizarrely was the fact that they then asked McKenzie to take a long-range kick, which he missed.
With the rain coming down harder in the second half, it turned into a kicking contest. The Blues had conceded a yellow card on the stroke of half time when Dalton Papali’i was sent off, but managed to keep the Chiefs scoreless during the 10-minute period they were handicapped. Again Black and McKenzie traded penalties to keep the difference to a single point. But then Barrett intervened with a six-point contribution from a sweetly struck drop goal and penalty.
Sensing that another loss may be on the way, the Chiefs tried to up the tempo, but that resulted in more errors which the Blues punished. Wing Mark Telea landed the final blow when he finished off a brilliant sequence of play started by teammate Caleb Clarke, who went on a busting run.
With the result the Blues have set a franchise record of five consecutive away wins.
Chiefs – Penalties: Damian McKenzie (4).
Blues – Try: Hoskins Sotutu, Mark Telea. Conversion: Otere Black. Penalties: Black (2), Beauden Barrett. Drop goal: Barrett.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Quinn Tupaea, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber (c), 8 Pita Gus Sowakula, 7 Lachlan Boshier, 6 Luke Jacobson, 5 Tupou Vaa’i, 4 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 1 Aidan Ross.
Subs: 16 Bradley Slater, 17 Reuben O’Neill, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Dylan Nel, 21 Lisati Milo-Harris, 22 Kaleb Trask, 23 Solomon Alaimalo.
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 Dalton Papalii, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Subs: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Marcel Renata, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Tony Lamborn, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Matt Duffie.
Photo: Getty Images