A thoroughly impressive Blues side capped off its pre-season in the best possible way tonight, beating the Chiefs 26-14 at our training ground in Alexandra Park.
The soggy pitch couldn’t dampen the fiery encounter, which was played at home base after the earlier closure of Shadbolt Park at Suburbs Rugby Club forced the sudden relocation of the match, and health and safety reasons prevented us from opening it up to the general public.
Starting with a moment of silence for much-loved former All Black and Chiefs loose forward Sione Lauaki before kick off, the Blues dominated the opening exchanges, utterly destroying a Chiefs scrum before winger Matt Duffie scored a try between the posts after just five minutes.
Then it was like Groundhog Day a few minutes later when the Blues destroyed another Chiefs scrum, and Duffie scored his second try in the corner, deftly placing the ball in-goal as he went flying into touch.
But the Chiefs scrum improved as the match went on, and soon it was the Blues under pressure, holding out countless waves of attack as the visitors tried to bust down the immovable blue wall. Finally, Brodie Retallick found a way through and Aaron Cruden converted it.
That would be the last time the Chiefs would score until late in the second half. Soon after, Ihaia West scored a stunning breakaway try from halfway, which he converted himself, before a Gerard Cowley-Tuioti try and another conversion from West made it 26-7 at halftime.
The Blues carried on as they left off in the second half, but a much-improved defensive effort by the Chiefs turned the match into an arm wrestle. Both teams were held scoreless until Latu Vaeno scored for the Chiefs with five minutes to go.
But it was the Blues’ all-round performance – not the result – that impressed head coach Tana Umaga the most. His team was hot on attack, strong on defence, and the match marked the welcome return to action for All Blacks Charlie Faumuina, Rieko Ioane, Steven Luatua and Ofa Tu’ungafasi, as well as the injury-plagued TJ Faiane.
“There’s a lot of positives we can take out of the game,” he said. “I’m also happy with the way Ihaia West was running the game, as well as Piers Francis out the back.”
It bodes well for an exciting Investec Super Rugby campaign ahead, which kicks off when the Blues face the Rebels in Melbourne on Thursday 23 February.
Blues 26 (Matt Duffie 2, Ihaia West, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti; Ihaia West 3 conversions)
Chiefs 14 (Brodie Retallick, Latu Vaeno; Aaron Cruden, Luteru Laulala conversions)