Blues triumph in adversity

22nd Mar 2008, 07:37


Danny Lee scores the crucial opening try for the Blues

Danny Lee scores the crucial opening try for the Blues

The Blues got their Super 14 campaign back on track with a nervy 17-14 win over the Stormers at Eden Park on Saturday.

The Blues got their Super 14 campaign back on track with a nervy 17-14 win over the Stormers at Eden Park on Saturday.

Ben Atiga was the hero of the hour, nailing a 40m penalty with the last kick of the game, having missed one six minutes previously.

Hit by the withdrawal of Nick Evans just before the kick-off, Blues coach David Nucifora was forced to blood Isaia Toeava at fly-half, and without their playmaker the Blues understandably struggled to find their rhythm.

But a super effort from their forwards, especially at the breakdown, ensured that they held the possession for long periods and eventually the visitors ran out of chances to sneak a win.

The defeat probably spells the end of the season for the Cape Town side, who fought gamely but never had enough ball to be able to carve out enough scoring opportunities. The win keeps the Blues well in contention for a play-off spot, but now opponents know just how much the absence - or nullification in a game - of Nick Evans means. Toeava did well under the circumstances, but if the pack had not been so resilient, he may have folded tactically.

As is their wont, the visitors threw themselves into the game with furious energy, spending a good deal of the opening quarter - bar a couple of cracking Blues breaks - tackling in front of the gain line. Schalk Burger and Luke Watson both laboured excellently, but too much of their good work was spoiled by mistakes from others.

Peter Grant opened the scoring with an early penalty, and the Stormers seemed to be containing the Blues well enough, but then came a superb try.

Rudi Wulf took a kick and tore away from the defenders. He found Toeava, who linked first with Jerome Kaino and then Kurtis Haiu, before the latter found Danny Lee who turned on the gas to dummy Schalk Burger and go near the posts for the score. Somewhere else the Blues missed Evans was in the kicking though - Atiga missed the easy conversion.

Grant thus restored the lead moments later with his second penalty, but the Blues pack began to find inroads into their opposition and forced a series of free-kicks and penalties. Atiga goaled three of them - at the third of which, Francois Louw was sin-binned for persistent offending. The Blues went in at the break with a comfortable 14-6 lead.

The second half began much as the first had ended, with the Blues pack laying siege to the Stormers line. But the white shirts held firm in defence, and when frustration bore them a couple of free-kicks, they upped the tempo well, taking the Blues back. Eventually Conrad Jantjes crossed for a try, following a ruck set up with a terrific straight burst form Grant, and it was 14-11. Had the Blues shot their bolt?

It seemed so. Toeava faded, and none of the Blues backs seemed incapable of finding a gap. Watson began more and more to pierce the blue defence, but the finesse and support necessary to turn the Stormers pressure into points was lacking. At the set piece too, the Stormers struggled to set up a platform, with JD Moller utterly dominated by John Afoa.

A moment of madness from Haiu at a ruck - a petulant punch to Moller - resulted in a penalty, which Grant coolly slotted from 40m to level the scores, but the Blues pack was once again in the ascendancy.

A controlled series of pick-and-drives, Bryn Evans, Troy Flavell, and Justin Collins all prominent, resulted in a penalty for Atiga to shoot for goal. He hit the post, and although Rudi Wulf collected the rebound, there was no support for him.

Another series of pick-and-drives on the other side of the field had the Stormers offside. Again Atiga shot for goal. Again it went left.

Then a chip from Toeava was idiotically fielded in an offside position by Sereli Naqelevuki after it had been knocked on by Tony Brown. Atiga had another chance. Third time lucky, and the Blues' season is still very much alive.

Man of the match: John Afoa. He was brilliant in every facet of play.

Moment of the match: Ben Atiga's winning kick - no regular kicker, to land that pressure kick from that distance on the wrong side was quite something.

Villain of the match: Could have been Kurtis Haiu for his punch had it either connected or had it cost his team the win. There were also a couple of suspicious-looking tackles by Schalk Burger at rucks. But nothing untoward really surfaced in eithehr incident.

The scorers:

For the Blues:
Pens: Atiga 3

For the Stormers:
Pens: Grant 3

Blues: 15 George Pisi, 14 Anthony Tuitavake, 13 Ben Atiga, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rudi Wulf, 10 Isaia Toeava, 9 Danny Lee, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Troy Flavell (c), 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Nick White.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Tony Woodcock, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 Justin Collins, 20 Taniela Moa, 21 AN Other, 22 Joe Rokocoko.

Stormers: 15 Conrad Jantjes, 14 Tonderai Chavhanga, 13 Gcobani Bobo, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Sireli Naqelevuki, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Ricky Januarie, 8 Luke Watson, 7 Francois Louw, 6 Schalk Burger, 5 Ross Skeate, 4 Adriaan Fondse, 3 Brian Mujati, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 JD Moller.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Brock Harris, 18 Andries Bekker, 19 Robbie Diack, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Tony Brown, 22 Gio Aplon.

Referee: Paul Marks (Australia)
Touch judges: Brett Bowden (Australia), Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen