The Blues cemented their lead in Super Rugby Pacific while frontrunners the Brumbies downed the Highlanders to deny New Zealand a clean sweep as the competition moved into its trans-Tasman phase over the weekend.
The Blues produced a sub-par effort but were still good enough to secure a bonus point with a 35-18 win over the Fijian Drua on Saturday, to go a point clear of the Brumbies, who beat the Highlanders 28-17.
The Crusaders leap-frogged the Reds and moved into third, two points behind the Brumbies, after closing the weekend with a 42-17 win over the Rebels.
After two months of local derbies, the reopening of borders allowed for the “Super Round” with all matches played in Melbourne.
The Chiefs and Hurricanes also recorded wins for New Zealand with the Waratahs unable to last 80 minutes against the ‘Canes and the Reds appearing to choke after leading the Chiefs early.
The Blues’ performance bore little resemblance to the impressive way they downed the Crusaders in an intense encounter the previous week. The Aucklanders struggled to a 21-10 lead at half time and, after Reiko Ioane threatened to open the game up with a 70-metre intercept try early in the second half, the Drua fought back with a try to Onisi Ratave.
AJ Lam responded to create a 17-point buffer for the Blues who then had to hang on for the final 10 minutes when reduced to 14 men by Karl Tu’inukuafe’s yellow card.
— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) April 23, 2022
Blues coach Leon MacDonald rued a “scrappy performance” against a unique Drua side: “They’re not like any other team. Their style is different and the way that they attack the game is refreshing and we sit here frustrated because we were unable to play the game we wanted because they didn’t allow us.”
The Brumbies started well but needed a late Noah Lolesio try to close to within a point of the Blues after the Highlanders had a try disallowed that could have snatched the game from the Canberra-based outfit.
“It was a tough one,” said Brumbies scrumhalf Nic White. “We knew the momentum was going to change. They made us work for it.”
The Reds raced to a 17-0 lead over the Hurricanes and then took a back seat as the Wellington side recovered to win 30-17.
“I’m really proud of that first half,” said Reds captain Tate McDermott who rued his side’s error rate. “But we came out in the second a different side and that’s really disappointing. You give the Kiwis that many opportunities, that much possession, you’re asking for trouble.”
Jonah Lowe scored four tries as the Chiefs pulled away from the Waratahs to win 51-27 on Friday. It was a horror start for the Waratahs with Angus Bell red-carded in the second minute for a tip tackle on Chiefs captain Sam Cane and, 10 minutes later, Jamie Roberts received a yellow card.
The Waratahs reduced the margin to 30-17 by half time and closed within three early in the second half when restored to full strength, before the Chiefs’ powerful finishing burst. “Right up until probably that last 10 minutes or so the game was even, there for the taking,” Cane said.
Waratahs coach Darren Coleman refused to blame the final result on the early ill-discipline: “The crux of it was the Kiwis blew us away in the last 15-20 minutes, like they have been doing for years, so we better get on with fixing that.”
In a match riddled with handling errors, the Crusaders led the Rebels 7-3 at half time before pulling away with five second-half tries. The Force fixture against Moana Pasifika was postponed because the Perth side was depleted by the coronavirus.
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