Blues claim unconvincing win over Hurricanes

Caleb Clarke of the Blues makes a run against Du'Plessis Kirifi of the Hurricanes. Photo: Getty Images
Caleb Clarke of the Blues makes a run against Du'Plessis Kirifi of the Hurricanes. Photo: Getty Images
Blues 27
Hurricanes 17

Bank the win and move on might be the best approach for the Blues.

Snapping a two-match losing run will bring a sense of relief but much work remains for Leon MacDonald, despite doing enough to repel the Hurricanes and stay firmly in contention for the inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa final.

The best news of Easter Saturday for the Blues is this win moves them within four points of the Crusaders following the Highlanders' stunning upset in Christchurch on Friday.

Unlike that southern derby, though, this contest battled to inspire with the Hurricanes scrapping to compete after conceding two first-half yellow cards and the Blues struggling throughout to put them away.

Three weeks ago at Eden Park the Blues comfortably defeated the Highlanders to record their second-straight win to start the season. After losses to the Crusaders and Chiefs and this win, the Blues have not been the same team since.

The Blues scored three tries to one but this was not a convincing display from the locals - certainly not one that will have anyone tagging them genuine title contenders.

The scrum stood apart as the Blues best feature of the evening – a marked improvement after they were shunted around Waikato Stadium last week.

Stephen Perofeta set up one second-half try after stepping Hurricanes lock James Blackwell flying out of the line to put TJ Faiane in, and Rieko Ioane exploited another mismatch to skin fellow Hurricanes lock Isaia Walker-Leawere and hand Mark Telea their third try.

Otherwise, though, there was little for the 17,000 crowd to celebrate. When one of the loudest cheers comes during the halftime sprints, you know something is amiss.

One week on from his record 30-point haul against the Highlanders in Dunedin, Jordie Barrett was again influential for the Hurricanes; his rocket boot firing over two penalties from well over 50 metres. But other than Auckland wing Salesi Rayasi's injection into the line, the Hurricanes battled to get their attack going, manging one late try to Reed Prinsep.

Two yellow cards did not help their cause, however.

That the visitors entered one point down at halftime, after spending 20 minutes one man short, said everything about the Blues' execution and the Hurricanes defence.

Despite Du'Plessis Kirifi copping the first yellow card for a high cleanout on Otere Black, the Hurricanes managed to score three points while the Blues could not collect any in that time. The Hurricanes then repeated those efforts after a dubious yellow to Hurricanes skipper Ardie Savea.

Savea was rightly perplexed by his yellow. After forcing his way through a maul on his own line Savea pulled Blues hooker Luteru Tolai down inches short, only for referee Brendon Pickerill to deem that illegal and award the Blues a questionable penalty try.

The Blues' first half left a lot to be desired. Dalton Papalii did his best to spark the Blues early with two turnover penalties in the opening seven minutes, but his team was underwhelming as they failed to make the most of their one-man advantage.

After successive losses and seven changes to their starting team the Blues seemed bereft of confidence at times. Their lineout, which struggled in defeat to the Chiefs last week, lost two throws; Caleb Clarke, sporting a fresh haircut, dropped two high balls he would usually swallow in his sleep. And the Blues backline looked disjointed with several passes thrown forward or hitting the turf.

Emerging from the sheds Tom Robinson, in his first match as captain after taking over from injured All Blacks lock Patrick Tuipulotu, was a man possessed. He stole one lineout and put a crucial big shot on Julian Savea that forced former All Blacks wing into a mistake. Robinson was an ever-present menace at near every breakdown, too.

Tries to Faiane and Telea gave the Blues breathing room in the form of a 12-point lead but, even then, they let the Hurricanes back in as Prinsep crashed over.

A late Black penalty finished the job for the Blues but MacDonald has plenty to ponder during his side's second bye week.

Blues 27 (Penalty try, TJ Faiane, Mark Telea tries; Otere Black 2 cons, 2 pens)
Hurricanes 17 (Reed Prinsep try; Jordie Barrett 4 pens)
HT: 10-9

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