The embattled Western Force were a force to be reckoned with at Eden Park tonight, eventually going down 24-15 thanks to some excellent Blues tries at crucial times.
The Aussies, no doubt motivated by speculation that they may be dropped from the Investec Super Rugby competition under the suggested new format, dominated possession early.
In fact, the Blues had only around one quarter possession in the first 20 minutes of the match, and did themselves no favours when they did have the ball, playing risky rugby from inside their own 22, coughing up penalties, and making mistakes as they tried to string something together.
The embattled Force team were justly rewarded when lock Ritchie Arnold burrowed through for his side’s first try in the 20th minute of the game.
Ten minutes later, Force number-eight Isireli Naisarani was shown a yellow card for repeated infringements, and the tide began to turn. The Blues began to click into gear, and Akira Ioane made an immediate impact when he replaced Jimmy Tupou, scoring the home team’s first try from an impressive lineout drive.
Then Matt Duffie, who was earlier denied a try because a pass from George Moala was ruled to have gone forward, dotted down in the same corner from a far more legit pass from Moala.
After halftime, midfield back TJ Faiane looked to have scored a superb solo effort in his first start, but it was also disallowed. That seemed to sum up the night until, finally, with 15 minutes to play, the younger Ioane also sparked something from the bench.
Rieko found a gap, burst through it, then passed the ball to fullback Michael Collins, who threw it to Melani Nanai on the wing. He streaked clear for a good 20m before drawing the last defender in, and passing the ball back to Rieko to score.
The Blues scored another wonderful end-to-end try a couple of minutes later, instigated by another replacement player, Ihaia West, who made a break from his own 22, before passing to Collins in support, who had just enough pace to get the job done.
Unfortunately, the bonus point was lost when Force fullback Dane Haylett-Petty scored a consolation try at the death, but the result will still serve as a good confidence-builder ahead of back-to-back Kiwi derbies.
The Blues face the Highlanders in Dunedin next Saturday, before hosting the Hurricanes at Eden Park on 15 April. Get tickets here.
Blues 24 (Tries – A.Ioane, Duffie, R. Ioane, Collins; Conversions – Francis, West)
Force 15 (Tries – Arnold, Haylett-Petty; Conversions – Prior; Penalties – Lance)