Following the Blues’ 25-19 victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday, Planet Rugby picks out five takeaways from the action.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck edges Jordie Barrett in inside centre duel
With it being a World Cup year, the battle for places in the All Blacks squad will be fierce throughout this year’s Super Rugby Pacific tournament and the duel between Hurricanes’ number 12 Jordie Barrett and his Blues counterpart Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was one of the highlights of this match.
Both had some good moments with Barrett showing his value as a goal-kicker but if truth be told the All Blacks’ incumbent inside centre was overshadowed by Tuivasa-Sheck, who left his stamp on this match with superb attacking play.
The code hopper has been one of the Blues‘ best players since the start of the season and continued with his fine form as he took the fight to the Hurricanes with some strong carries and superb distribution, while Barrett was less influential on attack as most of his best work was done on defence.
Tuivasa-Sheck finished with 49 attacking metres gained from an impressive 15 runs which included one clean break, a defender beaten and an offload. Meanwhile, Barrett gained 38 metres from eight runs with one offload.
Ardie Savea’s replacement shines
As one of the world’s best players, star number eight Ardie Savea‘s absence was always going to be a setback for the Hurricanes as he has shown his class with outstanding performances in their previous matches against the Reds and Melbourne Rebels.
With Savea serving a one-match suspension for his throat-slitting gesture after being yellow carded against the Rebels, his replacement was always going to be under pressure as he had big shoes to fill, but Peter Lakai can be proud of his efforts as he delivered a fine all-round performance.
The New Zealand U20 international was in the thick of the action as he caught the eye on attack with a team high 75 metres gained from 14 carries, which included one clean break and two offloads. He also shone on defence with a match-high 18 tackles and will be happy with his efforts.
Blues’ breakdown dominance proves crucial
As good as Lakai was on attack and defence, Savea’s excellence at the breakdown was missed and with him not there his All Blacks team-mates Dalton Papali’i and Hoskins Sotutu feasted.
The Blues back-row duo’s groundwork was outstanding throughout as both won their fair share of turnovers and also made their presence felt with their counter-rucking which was excellent throughout.
Sotutu also gave his team good momentum with ball in hand as he gained 79 attacking metres – from 11 carries with one clean break and two defenders beaten – while both also put in big shifts on defence with captain Papali’i finishing with a team-high 17 tackles while Sotutu made 11 hits. However, their breakdown work is where they really impressed and it played a big part in securing victory for their team.
Caleb Clarke speeding his way through to get across the try line ⚡️
— Stan Sport Rugby (@StanSportRugby) March 11, 2023
Ill discipline proves costly
Momentum between these teams ebbed and flowed throughout and their discipline, or lack thereof, was a big reason for them conceding points at various stages of this encounter.
The Hurricanes conceded a plethora of penalties during the first half and were made to pay by the Blues, who held a comfortable 22-5 lead by half-time.
The home side were reduced to 14 men when Isaia Walker-Leawere was yellow carded for a cynical defensive foul at a ruck and during his stint off the field the Blues scored 12 unanswered points courtesy of Caleb Clarke and Sotutu’s tries and one conversion from Stephen Perofeta.
It was a similar story after half-time but on this occasion the Blues were the culprits with Cameron Suafoa receiving a yellow card for a high tackle on Devan Flanders. They only conceded seven points during that period but it saw the Hurricanes’ narrowing the gap to three points at a crucial stage of the match.
Blues’ defence in closing stages makes the difference
After a forgetful performance in their defeat to the Brumbies in last weekend’s Super Round in Melbourne, the Blues delivered a much improved showing in this showdown with their rivals from New Zealand’s North Island.
The men from Auckland showed their intent from the outset in Wellington and were rewarded with three tries in the opening half, but were under the cosh for long periods during the second half.
Yes, they conceded three tries after the interval and only added three points – via a Perofeta penalty in the second half – but their defence held firm in the game’s dying moments when the Hurricanes were hammering away at their try-line. Leading the way were captain Papali’i and back-row partner Sotutu, who also won a crucial turnover at the end which allowed his team to kick the ball into touch and seal their win.