Rieko Ioane scored a brace as the Blues smashed the Cheetahs 50-32 in Auckland on Friday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Blues will be satisfied with a performance that yielded as many as eight tries. Their forwards were dominant at the collisions. They showed no small measure of skill to effect offloads and ensure attacking continuity. Out wide, the backs were good enough to translate front-foot ball into points.
The Cheetahs fought to remain in the contest in the first half. Thanks in large to their well-orchestrated lineout drive as well as the accurate goal-kicking of Fred Zeilinga, they trailed the Blues by just six points (24-18) at half-time.
That said, their defence let them down in a big way. The Blues scored four tries in the first half alone. Rieko Ioane claimed the first of his two tries during this period following a Blues counter-attack. No 8 Akira powered through a couple of weak tackles to score near the right-hand touchline.
The Blues shifted gears in the third quarter. Their forwards continued to work hard to win the gainline contest, and Steven Luatua smashed his way through the last line of defence to score in the 46th minute. Luatua was involved in the subsequent try too, throwing a speculative offload to find Augustine Pulu for the finish.
The Cheetahs defence was in disarray at this point. The Blues counter-attacked from deep, and the Ioane brothers made the opportunity count. Akira drew the final defender to set up Rieko for another try on the left-hand side.
The Blues lost momentum when coach Tana Umaga opted to make a number of substitutions. One could hardly blame Umaga in that situation, though, as the game as well as the bonus point looked to be in the bag. The upcoming tour to South Africa probably also factored into the decision.
The Cheetahs scored two tries via their lineout drive. Reserve hooker Elandre Huggett dotted down on both occasions, and also managed to deny the Blues a further try with some desperate defence at the death.
All this served to do, however, was add some respectability to the scoreline. The Cheetahs were poor on the day, and copped another big hiding at the hands of a New Zealand side.
It won't get any easier for the Cheetahs, who will travel to Wellington to play the Hurricanes next week.
Blues – Tries: Rieko Ioane (2), Scott Scrafton, Akira Ioane, Patrick Tuipolotu, Steven Luatua, Augustine Pulu, Melani Nanai. Conversions: Piers Francis (2), Ihaia West (3).
Cheetahs – Tries: Francois Venter, Torsten van Jaarsveld, Elandre Huggett (2). Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (3). Penalties: Zeilinga (2).
Blues – 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Declan O’Donnell, 13 George Moala, 12 TJ Faiane, 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 (c), 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Michael Collins.
Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (c), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Henco Venter, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Niell Jordaan, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais.
Subs: 16 Elandre Huggett, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Armandt Koster, 20 Uzair Cassiem, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Niel Marais, 23 Clinton Swart.
Photo: MIchael Bradley/AFP Photo