The Blues put on a compelling performance to beat the Cheetahs by 50-26 in a 11-try spectacular in Bloemfontein on Sunday morning.
Peter White reports on The Blues that the win has put the Blues on top of the Rebel Sport Super 14 table – one point clear of arch rivals the Crusaders.
For the rugby purist the game had just about everything. There was an intense physical battle in the forwards, crash tackling all over the park, brilliantly constructed tries, and even some old fashioned rolling mauls and scrum tightheads.
Blues winger Joe Rokocoko took his chances well to notch a smartly taken hat trick of tries but it was pleasing to see the television match adjudicators award No 8 Nick Williams the Man of the Match Award.
On an afternoon with so many points scored it is easy to focus purely on the dazzling footwork, skills and pace of the likes of Rokocoko, Rudi Wulf, Nick Evans and Anthony Tuitavake.
But this game was won in a titanic battle up front between two packs that smashed into each other without respite for 80 minutes. Williams stood out but no one worked harder than hooker Keven Mealamu, who made more than his fair share of big hits, linked well in general play and threw accurately into the lineouts.
Against a tough, incompromising Cheetahs’ pack, the Blues set piece stood up well, with loosehead prop Tony Woodcock getting through 50 minutes of action in a courageous performance after a bout of food poisoning overnight.
The inside back combination of Nick Evans and Benson Stanley continues to flourish, while halfback Danny Lee showed on his 32nd birthday what a sharp operator he is behind the Blues’ pack.
The game was played on a rock-hard surface under a blazing sun, with the sweltering conditions more suited to cricket than rugby as temperatures reached 36 degrees during the day.
It was the Blues who created most of the heat in an entertaining first spell, leading 21-12 at the break after scoring three fine tries to two from the plucky home side.
Two tries in two minutes to wingers Joe Rokocoko and Rudi Wulf opened up a commanding lead for the Blues but a late try to the Cheetahs, including a blatant knock-on missed by Australian referee Brett Bowden, meant the Blues led by just nine points at the break.
There was much to like about the Blues’ intensity on defence in the first half, and three lineouts won off the Cheetahs’ throws added to their forward dominance.
The pace of the game continued at the same frenetic level in the second half, with the Blues’ superior conditioning and high quality replacement players snuffing out a resolute performance from the Cheetahs.
Against most other teams the Cheetahs may well have had more than just a bonus point for four tries to show for their performance today, but the Blues are in a different league.
To come to South Africa and put 50 points on the board in both the opening games is a superb effort and much interest will focus on next weekend’s potentially tougher challenge against the Sharks.
Captain Troy Flavell was understandably proud of his team’s performance but he was gracious in his praise for the gutsy Cheetahs.
“I am very, very proud but I don’t think the score reflected the physicality of the match. I thought it was a very hard match and the Cheetahs’ forwards really took it to us with their set piece and it was a real tussle to the end,” Flavell says.
“But that is something you prepare for everytime you come to South Africa. I thought we stuck to our guns well and managed to keep our composure and structure, which is what we work on.”
Coach Nucifora was mightily pleased with his team’s effort.
“It was obviously pretty tough out there today. It was a very hard fought game, probably the most draining of the three games we have played due to the conditions. It was extremely hot and uncomfortable for the players, especially in the first 40 minutes, and it did take a lot out of them,” Nucifora says.
“I was very happy with the way we played obviously. We attacked very well but credit must go to the Cheetahs. Physically they threw everything at us and it was a very big contact game – probably harder than the last two.
“It is great to be 15 points out of 15 points so far but the Sharks in Durban is going to be difficult. But we are happy with where we are sitting at the moment.”
Blues 50 (J Rokocoko 3, I Toeava 2, R Wulf, A Tuitavake tries; N Evans 6 cons, pen)
Cheetahs 26 (G Passens, JW Jonker, H Rouseau, K Floors tries; C Barnard 2 cons, M Bosman con).
Halftime: 21-12 Blues.Tweet