The world may be in turmoil, but right now all is decidedly hunky-dory in Blues land.
The Auckland-based Super Rugby franchise are in clover, in a rare Saturday afternoon outing running in six tries to one to secure their first home victory of the season, and their fifth in total, as they made short work of South Africa’s Lions to the tune of 43-10.
If this competition is indeed about to go into coronavirus-enforced abeyance, like so many others around the world, Leon MacDonald’s men will be as disappointed as anyone. They are positively humming and would not like to see the rug pulled from under them at this stage.
Led by a powerhouse two-try display from centre Rieko Ioane, another metre-eating effort from No 8 Hoskins Sotutu, a breakout effort from halfback Sam Nock and an excellent showing from their unheralded front five (tweaked late when Karl Tu’inukuafe did not mark the start-line), the Blues inflicted a fifth defeat for the season on the struggling South Africans.
The Blues have now won four straight and five of their last six as they continue their surge up the Super Rugby rankings. At 5-2, with 22 competition points, they are now right in the thick of the playoff race for the first time in nearly a decade.
The Auckland outfit, who had lost three of their last four against the men from Johannesburg, have now made their best start to a Super season since 2011 when they opened a campaign that took them all the way to the semifinals with five victories, a draw and a single defeat in their first seven matches.
After last week’s scratchy effort in Wellington, this was more like it from the Blues. Ioane finished superbly and had an excellent all-round game (60 metres on 12 carries). His midfield combination with the impressive TJ Faiane is fast growing into a high-quality one.
Nock had easily his best outing as a Blue with an electric 91 running metres, Mark Telea continued his impressive form on the wing and Stephen Perofeta was excellent at the back for MacDonald’s side.
Up front Sotutu was a beast again (105 metres gained, five defenders beaten), even though he did miss a couple of key passes on the burst, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti was impressive in the second row and top marks to late replacement prop Ezekiel Lindenmuth who contributed well to a strong tight-five effort. Loosie Dalton Papalii’s failed HIA test was the only disappointing aspect.
The home side had to absorb its share of pressure through a first half in which it was shaded in the territory and possession battle, but did well to secure three tries to one for a handy 22-10 lead.
Power centre Ioane had the first, in the eighth minute, for his third try of the season when he crashed over from handy to the line after Otere Black had missed his excellent support line just moments earlier.
Big Lions midfielder Dan Kriel got the visitors on the board, and 7-5 in front, just past the quarter-hour mark when he finished a sustained period of attack with a crash-bash finish; but Black’s penalty and then an excellent try to fullback Perofeta put the Blues out to 15-7 heading into the final 10 minutes of the half.
Perofeta’s score was a beaut, in-form wing Telea put through a gap with a nicely weighted pass by prop Sione Mafileo and, this time, he did not miss his support runner with Perofeata on the inside channel.
Earlier Blues No 8 Sotutu – having another cracking match with ball in hand – had twice been guilty of spurning try-scoring chances when he failed to find support runners on the back of big breaks.
However the home side did finish the half with a flourish when, on the back of a big Sotutu run off a scrum, they picked up a penalty try when referee Marius van der Westhuizen yellow-carded Lions flanker Ruan Vermaak for a deliberate knockdown with the home side hot on attack.
Two quick strikes to the Blues early in the second half, while Vermaak was cooling his heels, effectively ended the contest as the home side thundered to a 36-10 lead.
Ioane had the first – and his second – when Sotutu and Faiane put him into space from a well-worked move off the lineout and lock Cowley-Tuioti the second when he galloped away to finish some crisp handling from Papalii, Nock, Matt Duffie and Faiane.
Sotutu provided the final touch when he completed the home side’s scoring with a nice finish of an outstanding break from Nock, with Duffie serving up the final pass. The 15,000 Blues fans in attendance were in seventh heaven.
Blues 43 (Rieko Ioane 2, Stephen Perofeta, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Hoskins Sotutu tries; penalty try; Otere Black pen, 3 cons; Harry Plummer con), Lions 10 (Dan Kriel tries; Elton Jantjies pen). Ht: 22-10.
This content was originally published here.