Blues hold off Fijian Drua in Auckland but lose All Blacks star to injury

David Skippers
Patrick Tuipulotu Blues SRP 2023 - Alamy.jpg

Blues captain and second-row Patrick Tuipulotu.

The Blues proved too strong for the Fijian Drua in Auckland on Saturday as they cruised to a 36-5 victory, but the win proved costly as they lost the services of their captain Patrick Tuipulotu to injury.

Tuipulotu was forced off the field midway through the opening half with a knee injury after his second-row partner Josh Beehre clattered into him in general play.

He left the field immediately and will have to go for scans which will reveal the full extent of his injury.

The Blues will be hoping that Tuipulotu will recover in time for the Super Rugby Pacific semi-finals while his injury will also be a concern for All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson ahead of the upcoming Tests against England and Fiji in July.

New Zealand are thin in the lock department after long-time second-row duo Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick retired from international rugby after last year’s Rugby World Cup in France, and Tuipulotu is viewed as a player who could slot into the All Blacks’ engine room as a replacement.

In the end, the Blues outscored the Drua by five tries to one at Eden Park, with Caleb Clarke leading the way for the home side with a brace while Dalton Papali’i, Finlay Christie and Kurt Eklund also crossed the whitewash.

Their other points came via three conversions and penalty from Harry Plummer while Stephen Perofeta also added a two-pointer off the kicking tee and the Drua’s only points came courtesy of a spectacular try from Selestino Ravutaumada.

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The Blues had the better of the early exchanges and opened the scoring in the ninth minute when Papali’i charged over from a lineout drive.

10 minutes later, the visitors failed to deal with a cross-field kick from Plummer deep inside their 22, and the Blues regained possession before Christie crossed in the left-hand corner.

The home side continued to dominate as the half progressed and after Plummer slotted a penalty in the 23rd minute, they were rewarded when Clarke crossed for his first five-pointer in the latter stages of the half giving his side a 22-0 lead at the interval.

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The Drua made a fantastic start to the second half when, three minutes after the restart, Ravutaumada ran onto a pass from Meli Derenalagi just inside his half before setting off on a mazy run – in which he bought four defenders – before crossing the whitewash with a breathtaking dive.

Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula’s conversion attempt was wide of the mark but that try boosted the Drua’s confidence as they took the fight to the Blues with some powerful carries during the next 15 minutes.

In the 53rd minute, the visitors had a chance to reduce the deficit when Akira Ioane was penalised at a breakdown and Armstrong-Ravula lined up a shot at goal but, once again, he was off target from the kicking tee.

Those missed shots at goal came back to haunt the Drua as the Blues finished stronger, and in the 64th minute, Eklund scored his try after another powerful lineout drive from the hosts.

And in the 78th minute, Clarke added the final nail in the Drua’s coffin when he crossed for a second try after the Blues had bamboozled the visitors’ defence with a wrap-around move off the back of a lineout deep inside their opponents’ 22.

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The teams

Blues: 15 Stephen Perofeta, 14 Mark Tele’a, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 AJ Lam, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Harry Plummer, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papali’i, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Josh Beehre, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Marcel Renata, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ofa Tu’ungafasi
Replacements: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Joshua Fusitu’a, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Cameron Suafoa, 20 Adrian Choat, 21 Taufa Funaki, 22 Corey Evans, 23 Cole Forbes

Fijian Drua: 15 Ilaisa Droasese, 14 Selestino Ravutaumada, 13 Iosefo Masi, 12 Kemu Valetini, 11 Waqa Nalaga, 10 Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Meli Derenalagi (c), 7 Kitione Salawa, 6 Etonia Waqa, 5 Leone Rotuisolia, 4 Mesake Vocevoce, 3 Mesake Doge, 2 Tevita Ikanivere, 1 Livai Natave
Replacements: 16 Zuriel Togiatama, 17 Emosi Tuqiri, 18 Samu Tawake, 19 Isoa Nasilasila, 20 Motikiai Murray, 21 Elia Canakaivata, 22 Peni Matawalu, 23 Caleb Muntz

Referee: Nic Berry (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Jordan Way (Australia), Reuben Keane (Australia)
TMO: Brett Cronan (Australia)

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