Planet Rugby

Blues throw it away

12th February 2010 06:19

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Victor Vito v Blues

Staying strong: Victor Vito holds off a Blues defender

The Hurricanes were the first winners of the 2010 Super 14, bouncing back to beat the Blues 34-20 in Albany on Friday.

The Blues made all the early running and took a 20-12 lead into the sheds at the break, but consistent indiscipline in their own half undermined their efforts, with Willie Ripia - later on Piri Weepu as well - kicking goal after goal to whittle away the lead.

Stephen Brett had a black and white debut for the Blues, running the show in the first half with one try and one assist to his name. He then doubled the number of assists on the hour mark, but this one saw the lead changing hands as his long flat pass was picked off by Hosea Gear for the visitors' only score.

There is going to be a good deal of scrutiny on the refereeing over the next couple of weeks with the latest round of 'breakdown crackdowns', which will yield the same general reaction: the winners will be able to justify their success, the losers will huff and puff and wai and gnash and not be able to do a thing about it.

As it was, this bout of refereeing would stand up to such scrutiny. The Blues were given enough chance to contest the breakdown, illustrated by their excellent first-half defensive display. That they conceded penalty after penalty in the second half was down to a combination of fatigue and the extra depth from which the Hurricane runners took the ball on. The game changed at half-time because the Hurricanes acted upon an adroit piece of self-analysis, not because the referee suddenly lost his marbles.

But a few games are going to be decided like this over the next few weeks. It's been a long time since a game was won by a team kicking nine penalties and stealing a try but never really threatening their opposition's line. Those days are back.

You wouldn't have thought so in the first half. After Willie Ripia had given the Hurricanes the lead with a penalty, Brett scored the tournament's first try with dismaying ease for Hurricanes supporters, slicing through the defence off the back of a line-out and tearing under the sticks to give the Blues a 7-3 lead.

The two fly-halves exchanged further penalties, but then it was Brett again the architect for his team's second try, again finding a line inside Ripia to go through but this time switching with John Afoa for the finish.

There were no more tries in the first half, but the Blues consistently looked more threatening. Only once, when Hosea Gear followed up Ripia's turnover clearance, did the Hurricanes come remotely close to crossing the whitewash, but otherwise all the enterprise was from the home team. Brett was a menace, Benson Stanley crashed, Isaia Toeava stepped, Rudi Wulf cut lines. The Hurricanes defence was constantly stretched.

But the Blues would not behave at the breakdown. Tony Woodcock was the chief villain, pinged a number of times for not rolling away. Ripia found his range - he missed two early ones as well as the five he landed - and with 25 minutes to go, the Hurricanes were only five behind, seemingly merely by dint of behaving themselves in defence.

Then Brett floated a pass out that was far too flat and Gear intercepted and ran 60m to go under the posts. The Hurricanes led. Desperation set into the Blues ranks. They had contested well at the breakdown in the first half, but faced with 61 per cent possession by the Hurricanes their energy faded and the penalties mounted. Piri Weepu landed four more, each one a nail into the Blues' coffin.

Man of the match: A tough one to call. It would have been Stephen Brett at half-time, but you don't get these awards for throwing match-turning intercept passes. So we'll go for Jason Eaton, whose increased presence in the loose in the second half counted for a great deal in the Hurricanes' revival.

The scorers:

For the Blues:
Tries: Brett, Afoa
Cons: Brett 2
Pens: Brett 2

For the Hurricanes:
Try: Gear
Con: Weepu
Pens: Ripia 5, Weepu 4

Blues: 15 Rudi Wulf, 14 Rene Ranger, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Viliami Ma'afu, 7 Serge Lilo, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Anthony Boric, 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Filo Paulo, 19 Peter Saili, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Paul Williams.

Hurricanes: 15 Cory Jane, 14 Tamati Ellison, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Willie Ripia, 9 Piri Weepu, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Scott Waldrom, 6 Nick Crosswell, 5 Jason Eaton, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Neemia Tialata, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 John Schwalger.

Replacements: 16 Dane Coles, 17 Jacob Ellison, 18 Bryn Evans, 19 Karl Lowe, 20 Tyson Keats, 21 Aaron Cruden, 22 David Smith.

Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Assistant referees: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand), Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

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