JON CARDINELLI reports on the Blues’ 26-13 victory over the Waratahs in the play-off decider in Auckland.
Missing the bulk of their first-choice team, the Waratahs weren’t given much hope of winning at Eden Park. Surprisingly, their forwards managed stand up to the much fancied Blues pack, and if not for their high error-rate and a bit of bad luck, they may have recorded one of the biggest upsets in Super Rugby history.
Some fantastic defence allowed them to absorb the early pressure and frustrate the hosts. They played themselves into Blues’ territory, and after exposing some frail midfield defence, Tom Carter rounded off a try in the left-hand corner.
The Blues responded with a try by Lachie Munro, a well-taken score that was the product of terrific lineout ball. While the Blues were clinical on this occasion, they were fortunate to be in such a favourable field position. In the preceding movement, the officials missed a blatant forward pass by Joe Rokocoko to Jared Payne, a mistake that allowed the Blues to take play from their own 22 right up to the Waratahs’ five-metre line.
The momentum swung in the hosts’ favour, and after a shaky opening quarter, they started to play with more confidence. Lachie Munro goaled two penalties before half-time to ensure the Blues’ obtained some reward for their dominance.
The Waratahs missed hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau at the lineout, as replacement John Ulugia continued to struggle to throw the ball straight. The wet conditions made handling difficult, but the Waratahs were guilty of too many errors in contact, especially when they had done all the hard work to cross the gain line.
The Blues persisted with their kick-chase tactics and attempted to take all the points on offer. After missing a penalty attempt early in the second half, Munro didn’t waste a second opportunity. The home team improved their ball retention and eventually breached the Waratahs’ defence when Ali Williams finished a wide-ranging movement.
Munro goaled the conversion to extend the Blues’ lead to 23-8. The Waratahs’ effort began to disintegrate, and an injury to breakdown Trojan Phil Waugh in the 65th minute allowed the Blues to take complete control. The Waratahs scored a late try through Lachie Turner, but it only served to add respectability to the scoreline.
While the Blues were deserved victors, they will have much to address before the semi-finals. They’re still struggling to maintain a high standard over a period of 80 minutes, and the defence around Stephen Brett’s channel is a weak point.
The decision making and execution of their 10-12 combination also requires sharpening, as Brett and McAlister were fortunate to get away with some poor kicking in this fixture. Against more organised teams like the Reds and Stormers, they may not be so lucky.