GARETH DUNCAN watched the Reds record a crucial 23-11 win over the bumbling Blues at Eden Park.
Defending champions the Reds struggled with their backline injury crisis in March and April as they only won one of their previous five fixtures. However, the victory over the Blues saw them jump back into the race for the top spot in the Australian conference, despite only having accumulated 25 log points to date.
The hapless Blues remain at the foot of the table as they suffered their eighth loss of the season. This defeat came after the Reds enforced a 12-point deficit in the opening moments of the match.
The hosts experienced a nightmare start after they folded on defence early on. The Reds capitalised on the hosts’ shaky guard, scoring two tries inside five minutes via outside centre Digby Ioane and fullback Luke Morahan – Ioane powering over from close range after a great chip into space from flyhalf Ben Lucas, while Morahan hit a gap with a smart inside step and dart to dive over.
Inside centre Mike Harris could’ve added further damage with the boot in the first quarter as he had three shots at goal (two conversions and one penalty), but he could only kick two points.
The Blues then bounced back with a strong finish to the first stanza.
They became stronger on defence as the half progressed and their lineout play improved after losing four of their own throws. They used the set piece as a platform for their first try as skipper Luke Braid dotted down via a strong rolling maul.
Flyhalf Gareth Anscombe and Harris traded a penalty apiece for a 15-8 half-time scoreline.
The Blues failed to build on to the momentum they achieved in the second quarter, making it easy for the Reds to close out the win. Wing Dom Shipperley touched down shortly after the kick-off, while Harris slotted a penalty to confirm the result. Anscombe’s second penalty was the Blues’ only points after the break.
Ewen McKenzie’s charges are now in a good position to challenge for first place in the Australian conference, which will secure an automatic play-off place. For the Blues, however, they’ll be playing for pride … or what’s left of it.