Planet Rugby

Blues pocket five points

13th February 2009 12:29

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Keven Mealamu Blues in Perth

Injury concern: After a strong start, Keven Mealamu was forced off in the second half

The Blues kicked off the 2009 Super 14 campaign with a bonus-point 25-19 win over the Western Force on Friday but a string of injuries to key players soured what was otherwise an emphatic win.

The stopover in Perth en route to South Africa looked a difficult prospect for the travelling Aucklanders but Pat Lam's team proved the stronger side in just about every sector of the game.

The Force had yet to win their opening fixture in three previous seasons of Super rugby and some sloppy defensive work at vital times ensured that that record remained in tact.

The Blues squandered a first-half tail wind and the lion's share of territory and possession to trail 14-8 when it was time to swap ends but a little more control and three second-half tries secured the five points.

Injuries to Keven Mealamu, Benson Stanley and Taniela Moa could leave the Blues weakened as they head to the Republic though.

"Too many mistakes," was Force captain Nathan Sharpe's immediate reaction after the match and was an accurate description of their disjointed effort.

Ryan Cross seemed to be saying "what for" when substituted in the second half, an indication that all is not well in the Force camp, despite their claims to the contrary.

The Force's error count simply did not allow them to build any kind of pressure on their visitors, who looked in impressive early season from.

Blues full-back Paul Williams opened the scoring with a penalty on the ten-minute mark to cap a period of sustained pressure from the visitors. The Force were lucky to escape with just the three points as Benson Stanley and Isaia Toeava had linked up to bring the Blues within touching distance of a try.

Despite the Blues dominating the early exchanges, they contrived to give possession away cheaply with poor kicking - perhaps trying too hard to profit from the wind at their backs.

The Force made their visitors pay by scoring the game's first try. As usual, Matt Giteau was the originator of the move, breaking the Blues line to set up a ruck under the posts. Two passes later and prop AJ Whalley produced a nifty sidestep to bisect two defenders and his power did the rest. Giteau added the extras and the Force moved four points ahead.

The home side then opened the gap when Wallaby wing Drew Mitchell sprinted the length of the field to score an intercept try. Giteau slotted the conversion from the touchline to put the Force eleven points clear - against the run of play.

The Blues finally touched down when number eight Chris Lowrey did a Superman dive over a ruck to score. Former Highlander Williams missed his conversion a few minutes before Anthony Tuitavake knocked-on in process of diving over for what would have been his side's second try. Pat Lam's troops seemed to be trying rather hard to throw this games away.

The Aucklanders decided to keep ball in hand a little more in the second half and the tactic paid off. The very first time they strung a significant amount of phases together - twelve to be precise - points were on offer as flank Justin Collins showed some neat footwork to round off down the touchline. Williams was off-target and the Blues continued to trail, but the writing was on the wall.

Anthony Boric was next to touch down, pirouetting and twisting his way through three defenders after gathering a high kick. He then turned on the gas to add five points. Williams' place-kicking nightmare got worse as the ball fell off the tee in the middle of his kicking action to be hoofed along the turf rather than through the posts.

It was all Blues, and when 98 kg scrum-half Taniela Moa scored the bonus-point try, the game looked done and dusted. 22 unanswered points and the visitors were cruising.

The Force weren't done yet though and try from replacement lock Tom Hockings a few minutes after coming on revived their hopes.

A late break from Giteau sent the Blues' hearts racing but they were quickly able to wrestle control back and shut the game down for a deserved win.

The Force will have to settle for a losing bonus point and in all honesty they didn't deserve much more.

Man of the match: Blues scrum-half Taniela Moa had a solid game at the base of the scrum but it was the men in front of him that did the real damage. The loose trio were all effective but lock Anthony Boric gets our vote. Apart from his try, he was solid in the line-outs and grafted hard at the rucks. What more could one ask from a second row?

The scorers

For the Force:

Tries: Whalley, Mitchell, Hockings

Cons: Giteau 2

For the Blues:

Tries: Lowrey, Collins, Boric, Moa

Cons: Williams

Pens: Williams

Western Force: 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Haig Sare, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Josh Tatupu, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Chris O'Young, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Tamaiti Horua, 5 Nathan Sharpe (captain), 4 Pat O'Connor, 3 AJ Whalley, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Pek Cowan.

Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Troy Takiari, 18 Tom Hockings, 19 Matt Hodgson, 20 James O'Connor, 21 Nick Cummins, 22 Dane Haylett-Petty.

Blues: 15 Paul Williams, 14 Anthony Tuitavake, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Tasesa Lavea, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Chris Lowrey, 7 Onosai'i Auva'a, 6 Justin Collins, 5 Anthony Boric, 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.

Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Dean Budd, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Jimmy Gopperth, 22 Jamie Helleur.

Venue: Subiaco Oval, Perth

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)

Touch judges: Nathan Pearce (Australia), Julian Pritchard (Australia)

TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)

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