Planet Rugby

Blues blow Lion cubs away

10th March 2007 08:28

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Doug Howlett

Record breaker: Doug Howlett streaks away for his second try

Simply too strong, too quick and too skilful. This is why the Blues beat the inexperienced Lions by 41-14 in their Super 14 Round Six match in Auckland on Saturday.

The result not only ended a four-match winning streak for the unheralded South African side, but it also burst their bubble in a big way.

The Blues and Lions started the match in first and fourth place respectively, with only two points in the table the difference between them, and both having won four and lost one. It ought to have been a nail-biter.

Instead, the Blues racked up first-half points at nearly one a minute, while the Lions only once got to the the Blues line and stitched together a few phases. The teams turned around with the Blues leading 34-7, with the bonus point wrapped up. There was little to watch in the second half as the Blues relaxed and the Lions continued to throw twiglets at the Blues' brick wall.

But the first-half display by the Blues alone was worth the admission fee. Two of the fresh faces brought into the Blues team by coach David Nucifora, number eight Nick Williams and fly-half David Holwell, turned on the style and looked every bit five weeks fresher than the rest.

Williams knocked Lions defenders out of the way like a maternally-enraged elephant charging through a cornfield. David Holwell grabbed the first try in the second minute, but the hard yards were all made by Williams, from whose thighs Cobus Grobler and Ernst Joubert both bounced before three others clambered all over him and brought him down. Five defenders to tackle one player leaves gaps elsewhere though.

From the ruck, out the ball went through the hands, and just when it looked as though the scrambling Lions' defence had shoved Wulf and co. into touch, Holwell peeled off, spun inside, and dived over the line.

Three short minutes later the Blues scored try number two, which was a real gem from the three-quarters, the kind of try that would have had fathers from the entire global audience nudging their sons and saying: "That's how it ought to be done."

After Daniel Braid had stormed away from a line-out, the ball was whipped out swiftly left down the line, to Holwell-Tuitupou-Toeava-Wulf and over for the try - the speed you can read those names is the speed the ball travelled through the hands. It was wonderful to watch, and Holwell did it justice with an excellent touchline conversion.

The Lions had barely laid hand to ball up to then, but they got it back from the restart, moved up the left, and then lost it. Williams scooped it up, and tore down the right like a rogue boulder, forcing the retreating defence to come up offside. Holwell goaled and it was 15-0 after 7 minutes.

Finally the Lions got themselves some ball though, and despite the head start they had given their opponents, the game looked as though it might even up. The Lions pack had been under pressure at scrum-time, but when Pretorius booted a penalty to the corner the forwards gathered the ball from the line-out and unleashed two furious mauls near the Blues' line.

The first was collapsed by a Blue forward, prompting a 'yellow card imminent' warning from referee Paul Marks, and from the second, Pretorius hoisted a kick across the field which Ben Atiga spilled under little pressure allowing young Louis Ludik to pounce for the try. Pretorius's conversion made it 15-7, not an insurmountable deficit.

The deficits in the Lions' tight play, and the superiority of the Blues' loose trio told more and more as the half wore on. The number of turnovers eked out in the tackle by Braid, Williams and Kaino only served to compound the number of handling errors made by the entire Lions team, and it added a one-sided twist to the game.

After a free-kick conceded by the Lions at the scrum engage, a quick tap ended in the hands of Williams who was denied a try only by Ricky Januarie's arms which prevented the ball touching the turf.

Four minutes later, Ben Atiga was within a whisker of getting onto Doug Howlett's grubber kick into the in-goal area, but Earl Rose was alive to the danger. Nearly half and hour had elapsed, and it was difficult to believe that the gap was still only eight points.

After half an hour, Howlett finally extended the lead with a cantering try in the right corner, born once again out of turnover and charging work by Williams.

Holwell couldn't convert that, but did better with a conversion of Ben Atiga's try three minutes later. Another handling error by the Lions allowed Williams to hack ahead, and although Jaco Pretorius covered the ball gamely, Williams once again helped turn it over - with more than a suspicion of offside about his drive this time - and out the ball went through the hands again, to where the Blues had such a big overlap that Rose didn't even bother to tackle.

A passage of play three minutes before half time typified much of the first half. The Lions, on a rare encroachment into Blues territory, had a 5m scrum. Little Januarie had a pop at a little gap, but was engulfed - Williams was once again in the vicinity - and the ball came back on the Blue side. Braid and Isaia Toeava promptly carved the Lions defence apart and made 50m. Two minutes later, another Lions handling error gave the ball to Howlett, who also made a near-50m gain.

Right on the stroke of half-time, after a peculiarly effeminate bout of handbags between Howlett and Rose had yielded a penalty for the Blues, Daniel Braid was driven over from the line-out, and Holwell's conversion made it 34-7 at the break.

There were flickers of life in the second half, but the longer the Lions failed to score, the more the torpor set in. Howlett made amends for his perceived injustices from Rose the manly way, with two monster hits on the full-back.

Howlett then drew level with Joe Roff as the record Super Rugby try-scorer of all time, finishing off a counter-attack led by Toeava after a crummy kick by Rose, a just reward for a superb performance by the AB wing.

Etienne Reynecke grabbed a late score for the Lions, but it was the scantest consolation on a night when Eugene Eloff's men were left trailing.

Man of the match: This could not have been a Lion, the Blues were pretty much man for man the superior team. Nick Williams was magnificent in the first half, but faded in the second. But there were two Blues who stood out from the rest: in the backs, Doug Howlett reminded us of what he can still offer with a great display of finishing, and Daniel Braid continued his good form with a cracking loose forward display.

The scorers:

For the Blues:

Tries: Holwell, Wulf, Howlett 2, Atiga, Braid

Cons: Holwell 4

Pen: Holwell

For the Lions:

Tries: Ludik, Reynecke

Cons: Pretorius, Rose

Teams:

Blues: 15 Ben Atiga, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Sam Tuitupou, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 David Holwell, 9 David Gibson, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Troy Flavell, 4 Greg Rawlinson, 3 John Afoa, 2 Derren Witcombe, 1 Saimone Taumoepeau

Replacements: 16 Chris Heard, 17 Nick White, 18 Anthony Boric, 19 Angus MacDonald, 20 Steve Devine, 21 Isa Nacewa, 22 Luke McAlister

Lions: 15 Earl Rose, 14 Louis Ludik, 13 Jaque Fourie, 12 Doppies La Grange, 11 Jaco Pretorius, 10 André Pretorius, 9 Enrico Januarie, 8 Jacques Cronjé, 7 Ernst Joubert (c), 6 Cobus Grobbelaar, 5 Anton van Zyl, 4 Cobus Grobler, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Willie Wepener, 1 Heinke van der Merwe.

Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Bertus Smit, 18 Franco van der Merwe, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Strydom, 22 Jaco van Schalkwyk

Referee: Paul Marks (Australia)

Touch judges: Brett Bowden (Australia), Chris Pollock (New Zealand)

Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Assessor: Alan Riley (New Zealand), Arrie Schoonwinkel (South Africa)

By Danny Stephens

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