Flyhalf Stephen Perofeta kicked 14 points as the Blues beat the Waratahs 24-21 in Brookvale on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS.
This encounter was seen as the perfect opportunity for Australia to end its wretched 37-match losing streak against Kiwi opposition in Super Rugby. However, the team rooted to the bottom of the New Zealand conference was still too good for the one leading the Australian conference.
All the pre-match talk had been about whether coach Tana Umaga would keep his job after a dismal season for the Blues. But right from the off, the visitors were on top. Their rush defence unnerved the Waratahs, who were forced into making numerous handling errors.
The Blues led by 10 points after 18 minutes thanks to a try by Rieko Ioane and a conversion and penalty by their young flyhalf. The damage would have been even greater had Waratahs wing Cam Clark not determinedly chased down a flying Ioane to prevent a certain try from being scored. Although Ioane – who broke away from inside the Blues’ 22 – got to his feet to dot down, referee Jaco Peyper awarded a relieving penalty to the Waratahs.
The hosts never looked like scoring, despite seeing more of the ball as the half progressed. But again their cause was aided by the officials’ intervention. With the Waratahs on the attack, flank Dalton Papali’i recklessly grabbed Clark around the neck and dragged him out into touch. He was shown a yellow card and with the numerical advantage, Damien Fitzpatrick crashed over from the back of a driving maul.
Suddenly it seemed an even contest. Both sides added a second converted try – wing Tumua Manu for the Blues and Sekope Kepu for the Waratahs – though Perofeta slotted a second penalty to hand the Blues an 18-14 lead at the break.
The second half was a complete bore. Neither team was able to add to its tally in the third quarter.
What was evident despite the lack of scoring opportunities, was the Blues’ defensive discipline and their maturity when they were in possession. This was illustrated when Perofeta stepped up twice to take the points on offer from kickable penalties.
Captain Michael Hooper did spark hopes of a Waratahs’ comeback with a well-worked try, bringing the score to 24-21.
There was a late burst by the hosts, including a 20-phase attack during which they threw everything at the Blues. But the visitors’ defence refused to cave in, forcing a cross-kick from Kurtley Beale that was too far for Israel Folau to pluck out of the air.
The hosts stole a Blues lineout in the final seconds of the match, but couldn’t make it count, with a knock-on ending the contest.
Waratahs – Tries: Damien Fitzpatrick, Sekope Kepu, Michael Hooper. Conversions: Bernard Foley (3).
Blues – Tries: Rieko Ioane, Tumua Manu. Conversion: Stephen Perofeta. Penalties: Perofeta (4).
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Lalakai Foketi, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Will Miller, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Tom Robertson.
Subs: 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Harry Johnson-Holmes, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Curtis Rona, 23 Bryce Hegarty.
Blues – 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Tumua Manu, 13 Orbyn Leger, 12 Rieko Ioane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Augustine Pulu (c), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons, 1 Ross Wright.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Mike Tamoaieta, 19 Ben Nee-Nee/Lyndon Dunshea, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Dan Kirkpatrick, 23 Terrence Hepetema.
Photo: Getty Images