The Blues got their Super 14 campaign back on track with an impressive 36-12 win over a listless Lions team in Auckland on Friday, outscoring the visitors by six tries to two.
Wing Rudi Wulf, playing in his first game of the season after fracturing his hand in the pre-season, scored two of his team’s tries in a game totally dominated by the home team.
Rugby 365 reports that having lost three of their last four games, the bonus-point win put the Blues back into contention – just outside the top four.
However, they may have paid a dear price for the win, with a host of players leaving the field injured – players like John Afoa, Tasesa Lavea, Keven Mealamu and Paul Williams all hobbled off.
The score flattered the Lions, for the Blues were streets better than they were. At times, through errors, they were themselves the best defence the Lions had as they ran all over the place. But the Lions were required to make 168 tackles in the match, missing 35, whereas the Blues needed to make 79, missing just eight.
Apart from the great superiority on attack, the Blues were better defenders, sharper and harder in tackling and aggressive at the tackle, and when they kicked they kicked much better than the Lions.
The half-time score was 14-0. The Lions were full value for the nil but the Blues were much underdone for just 14.
The Lions did not get going till substitute time, the last 20 minutes. They benefitted from the arrival of Earl Rose and Jaco Vermaak while the Blues stumbled about the place trying to shrug off injuries. That was when the Lions started to do things like catch, pass and run with the ball and they got two tries. Mind you, in that time, the Blues had a couple of spurts to show their class and score two tries of their own.
Eden Park was wet after heavy rain and this may have led to the many handling errors that bedevilled the Blues’ efforts in the first half.
Before the match started there was silence to mark the passing of Shawn MacKay of the Brumbies and the players wore black armbands, a sombre start on a gloomy evening, but it was followed by sparkling rugby right from the time that returnee Tasesa Lavea kicked off.
The Blues spread the ball wide from the start. Five times they attacked and five times they lost the ball just when a try looked certain. Paul Williams, who attacked all night from fullback, was close. Isaia Toeava was close, Chris Smylie was close and Toeava was close again as the Blues attacked again and again. The best the Lions got out of it was a chance from a knock-on to kick the ball into touch to catch their breath and start tackling all over again.
A try was inevitable and after Toeava was close from a line-out Smylie darted inside Jaque Fourie to score the opening try. Toeava, playing inside centre, converted. 7-0 after 14 minutes of Blues’ attack.
The Lions actually got down into Blues’ land – and the Blues scored. The Lions did pick-’n-drive and then Johan Afoa took the ball away from Gert Muller. Smylie darted inside Todd Clever and raced down the field. Tackled he got the ball back quickly and went wide to the right where, brilliantly and characteristically, Anthony Tuitavake stepped inside Henno Mentz and Louis Ludik and went past Ernst Joubert to score. So talented Toeava converted from far out. 14-0 after 28 minutes.
Right from the kick-off the Blues attacked in splendour and as they went left and right and all over the place Joe Rokocoko was close. From a five-metre scrum they went to the far left where Williams was over but held up by brilliant defence by Deon van Rensburg.
Apart from losing their own all, the Blues were making a meal of the Lions’ ball, winning numerous turnovers at tackles. On defence where the Lions kicked for touch, the Blues ran. Right from the kick-off they ran from inside their own 22, wandering downfield with great confidence, till Rokocoko broke. After 10 phases Toeava slipped a grubber into the Lions’ in-goal where Rudi Wulf, back from breaking a wrist, had the easy job of concentrating and dotting down. 19-0 after 42 minutes.
The Blues continued to run the Lions ragged as the Chiefs had not nearly done the week before. They handled and attacked. They tapped a penalty and Rokocoko ran past Joubert to score in the corner. 24-0 after 48 minutes, and the Blues had a bonus point.
When the Lions did get scraps of possession they did not keep it for long until with under 20 minutes to play, they started to play. They went up the field on the left in several phases and then Rose chipped, caught the ball and ran. Mentz was on his right. Rose gave to Mentz who raced off to score close in. Pretorius missed the conversion, 24-5 after 68 minutes.
Stung, the Blues attacked and were close to the line on the left where prop Tevita Mailau was tackled. The Lions won a turnover but Rene Ranger charged down Pretorius’s attempted clearance and Wulf got to the ball and scored just before the dead-ball line. Toeava converted. 31-5 after 71 minutes.
Straight away the Blues attacked. Ranger cut through on a long run and Peter Saili forced his way over for a try which Michael Hobbs did not convert.
The siren had gone and the Lions were deep in tier own territory when they moved upfield from a scrum. Mentz dashed down the left touch-line and gave inside to Vermaak who scurried off to score. Pretorius converted and the final whistle went.
The spectators at Eden Park could go home smiling.
Man of the Match: If you singled out Lions you would single out Henno Mentz and Willem Alberts for their sterling work on defence. If you singled out Blues it would be all about attack where Josh Blackie was effective and so was Chris Smylie, and Tasesa Lavea directed operations with smooth variety and Paul Williams was strong but our award of Man of the Match goes to Isaia Toeava, a young player who can do everything – run, pass, kick, tackle. He was wonderful.
For the Blues:
Tries: Smylie, Tuitavake, Wulf 2, Rokocoko, Saili
Cons: Toeava 3
For the Lions:
Tries: Mentz, Vermaak