An aggressive steel-door defence in the second half led to an outstanding seven-try 56-18 victory for the Blues over the Rebels in Melbourne to open the Investec Super Rugby competition.
A late intercept try by Rieko Ioane gave the Blues a stuttering 25-15 halftime lead, closed by a further penalty to the home side in the first minute of the second spell at AMII Park.
Then the outstanding Blues defence shut down the home side who failed to score in the next 39 minutes while a powerful forward platform led to some scintillating running rugby as the Blues ran in a further four tries.
The 56 point effort was the Blues’ best for seven years in the competition and an excellent start for their 2017 campaign, achieved with most of their All Blacks either on the bench or back at home.
“Our preparation and hard work that our players and staff have put in over the last three months in the pre-season was the key. These guys have worked so hard as have the boys back at home,” said Blues head coach Tana Umaga.
“They wanted to ensure they put on a good performance with a lot of new guys who had their first game tonight and they all played well.
“What impressed me was our ability to come back and gain some composure and trust the systems that they’ve been working on so hard.
“We saw there were a lot of nerves at the start of the game and that added to our start and the Rebels were really fired up and you can’t take anything away from them.
“We were happy with how we came back in the second half which is something we have been working on.
“The team has worked hard on our defensive structures with Alastair (Rogers) which is credit to what he has done but also to the boys and the way they have bought into it and are now starting to understand it.
“It is a good start and a good platform for us to work on going forward.”
Star was teenage All Black Rieko Ioane who bagged a hat-trick of tries – from a long range intercept, a brilliant solo effort and a pass from his brother Akira after creating the turnover at the breakdown.
Not far behind was first-five Ihaia West who recovered from an early charge down that led to a Rebels’ try to control the game and kicked eight from nine goals to become just the fourth Blues player to reach 300 points.
The back row of Akira Ioane, Steven Luatua and Blake Gibson profited from the strong set-piece to wreck havoc amongst the Rebels’ with powerful tackling and aggression at the breakdown, while Luatua showed up with some outstanding strong runs.
The newcomers also had a chance to shine, none more so than captain Jimmy Tupou at lock; halfback Augustine Pulu, who scored his first try in blues colours and fullback Michael Collins.
Coach Umaga was able to clear his bench with all eight reserves playing including Super Rugby debuts for hooker Hame Faiva and flanker Murphy Taramai.
The Blues travel to Hamilton to take on the Chiefs next Friday night, before our first home game against the Highlanders at Eden Park on 11 March. Buy tickets here.
Blues 56 (Rieko Ioane 3, Pauliasi Manu, Matt Duffie, Augustine Pulu, Melani Nani tries; Ihaia West 5 conversions, 2 penalties; Piers Francis a penalty) Melbourne Rebels 18.