Planet Rugby

Blues book a play-off spot

04th May 2007 14:09

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Blues book a play-off spot

On their way to the play-offs: Troy Flavell and David Nucifora

The Blues booked their place in the Super 14 play-offs with an emphatic 33-6 win over the Western Force in Perth on Friday, a win that saw them move into second place on the standings.

However, despite the four tries to none win the Blues will have to wait until the final game on Saturday to know who they will play and where they will play.

The Sharks, currently third, need just a win against the Stormers to go past the Crusaders and Blues. However, the Bulls need to beat the Reds by 45 points to overtake the Blues and by 72 points to overtake the Crusaders. The Brumbies, who face the Highlanders in Dunedin, need the Bulls to lose and then win by 20 points.

The Blues got their bonus point after the siren and did it in style, starting well inside their own 22, but there will be controversy galore.

It was not the fourth try that was controversial, but the third try which made the fourth try the fourth try and a bonus point.

Digby Ioane of the Force kicked out. It was not a good kick but it went far over the touch-line. Alistair Williams of the Blues got the ball from a ballboy and threw in quickly to Keven Mealamu. The touch judge dropped his flag - the sign that everything is hunky-dory - and Mealamu had an unchallenged run to the goal-line. Nathan Sharpe of the Force protested. The try stood. That was with eight minutes to go. It was an error, possibly a lucrative one for the Blues, possibly a costly one for other teams.

Late in those eight minutes Anthony Tuitavake grabbed Haig Sare without the ball as he ran in support. The Force kicked it out to attack but their throw-in was skew. That produced a scrum and the Blues ran to their left from the scrum. Luke McAlister chipped and gathered and the Blues. Doug Howlett grubbered and collected as they moved downfield but with a minute and a half to go Daniel Braid knocked on., Scrum, to the Force near their 10-metre line. Scott Staniforth had a great break but when he was tackled Nick Williams won the ball and Steve Devine kicked out deep in the Force's 22 where Scott Fava threw in quickly to Drew Mitchell who knocked on as Ben Atiga and Devine homed in on him. That produced a scrum to the Blues to the right of the posts as they looked at them. The Blues went left with a purpose and bashed and bashed their way nearer and nearer to the Force's goal-line. The final siren sounded mournfully but suddenly Tony Woodcock plunged over for a try which the television match official confirmed and the Blues had their bonus point and a semi-final, possibly even one at home for a bonus point can make a difference.

The fortunes of the two sides in went and slippery Perth were different. The Reds had come off their record highest score last week when they beat the Cheetahs. The Blues, sitting pretty for ten weeks of the Super 14, were being toppled as they suffered three successive defeats. But this time there was going to be only one winner - the purposeful Blues.

They were so much better at the tackle for one thing - climbing in for vigour and numbers to win turn-overs. They handled better, hung onto the ball better and scrummed better. The Force were penalised seven times in the match - four times at scrums.

The Force had 30 000 fans supporting them and Matt Giteau, but that was not enough.

New Zealanders make an art of understatement - a gale is a breeze and pouring rain a drizzle. After the match captain Troy Flavell described his team's performance as "a good effort". It was more than that and the long-term effect of the "good effort" could pay off really well.

It started harmlessly enough but with the Blues looking sharper. After 26 minutes they led 6-3 and had missed two penalty kicks at goal, one by Isa Nacewa and one by McAlister. The two which they goaled were both against Scott Fava.

From kick-off after the second penalty the Blues attacked immediately. Nacewa made the initial opening, McAlister raced ahead and Isaia Toeava was stopped t the line on the left. Back the ball came to the left where Rudi Wulff dummied and found a path around Nathan Sharpe for the try.

The Force got a penalty just before the break when they battered and battered from a five-metre line-out.

The second half started in ghastly fashion for the Force. Matt Henjak passed a horrible pass along the ground back to Mitchell who knocked on. That produced a five-metre scrum to the Blues who bashed and bashed until the Force was penalised and McAlister made it 16-6.

That is how the score stayed. Staniforth had a good run and so did Ioane as he counterattacked but support was just not there as the white-jerseyed Blues got to the runner in greater numbers than the blue-jerseyed Force.

With 11 minutes to play the Blues were rewarded for prolonged battering at the Force's line when Johan Afoa plunged over for this first try in Super rugby. And how he enjoyed it! And how his team-mates enjoyed it! 23-6.

This was soon followed by the unfortunate try to Mealamu to take the score to 28-6 and then the final post-siren try. 33-6.

Man of the Match: Daniel Braid was outstanding at the breakdown and Luke McAlister was all things powerful and skilful but our Man of the Match was a combination - halves, Isa Nacewa for good judgement and direction, and Steve Devine for skill, variation and the accuracy of his quick distribution.

The scorers:

For the Western Force:

Pens: Giteau 2

For the Blues:

Tries: Wulf, Afoa, Mealamu, Woodcock

Cons: McAlister 2

Pens: McAlister 3

Teams:

Force: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Scott Staniforth, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Junior Pelesasa, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Matt Henjak, 8 Scott Fava, 7 David Pocock, 6 Luke Doherty, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Rudi Vedelago, 3 Troy Takiari, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Gareth Hardy

Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes 17 AJ Whalley 18 David Pusey/Matt Hodgson 19 Richard Brown 20 Chris O'Young 21 James Hilgendorf 22 Haig Sare

Blues: 15 George Pisi, 14 Doug Howlett, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Luke McAlister, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Isa Nacewa, 9 Steve Devine, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Troy Flavell, 4 Greg Rawlinson, 3 John Afoa, 2 Derren Witcombe, 1 Tony Woodcock

Replacements: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Nick White, 18 Ali Williams, 19 Justin Collins, 20 Taniela Moa, 21 Ben Atiga, 22 Anthony Tuitavake

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)

Touch judges: Deon van Blommestein (South Africa), James Leckie (Australia)

Television match official: George Ayoub (Australia)

Assessor: Ian Scotney, Tony Dunlop

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