The Auckland Blues have produced an entertaining second half display to defeat the ACT Brumbies 39-34 in Auckland. In a game that could be described as a game of two halves, the Blues showed what they’re capable of in front of their home crowd at Eden Park.
The game marked Blues skipper Keven Mealamu’s 100th game for the franchise and after the opening minutes things didn’t look too promising. The Brumbies dominated the opening exchanges with good field position and with the majority of the posession. A series of scrums in the Auckland 22m area led to the opening try to prop Salesi Maa’afu. The Brumbies front row have sure been able to sniff out a try this season and are certainly showing the backs a thing or two on how to get to the tryline.
Auckland finally got their hands on the ball and when they did they started to look dangerous in attack and after their first trip into the Brumbies 22, they came away with 3 points courtesy of a Stephen Brett penalty goal. Brumbies flyhalf Matt Giteau responded with a penalty goal of his own shortly after to extend the lead to 10-3.
Unfortunately for the Brumbies, restarts weren’t a highlight of the night and this gave Auckland easy field position in crucial areas. A mix up between Fainifo and Tyrone Smith led to Auckland’s first try of the night through Joe Rokocoko after a good hit up by Rene Ranger, who was beginning to stamp his authority on the game. After Brett’s conversion the scores were level at 10-10.
Ranger was creating headaches for the Brumbies in both attack with some excellent runs and also in defence with some thunderous tackling, as Christian Lealiifano can attest.
Before half time added 2 more penalty goals to give the Brumbies a 16-10 lead at half time, which was possibly the worst thing that could have happened.
Whatever Blues coach Pat Lam said to his troops at half time obviously worked as his team produced a devestating period of play. The Brumbies did not help their cause with another restart error to start the half and within 10 minutes the Blues scored 3 tries. The first was a result of crucual missed tackles on Ranger who was not held and continued his way over the line in the corner.
Almost immediately, Ranger bumped off Tyrone Smith and made a long break downfield which resulted in Blues centre Benson Stanley going over in the corner and with Brett’s conversion the Blues were in front 22-16. At this point Brumbies flanker George Smith went off with a shoulder injury which seemed to disrupt the Brumbies play. Matt Giteau was able to add another penalty for the Brumbies in between another Blues try after Brett executed a brilliant cross field kick to an unmarked Rokocoko on the right wing. Brett converted to extend their lead to 29-19.
The Brumbies weren’t going to lie down and were prepared to throw the ball around and made regular trips to the Blues 22. However, the only points they could manage were in 3’s whilst Auckland were racking up the tries and scored another to the ‘Ice Man’ Toeava after another restart error from the Brumbies.
Amazingly there were still another 25 minutes to go and the Brumbies were going to chase an unlikely win. After a series of penalties from referee Mark Lawrence, reserve hooker Huia Edmonds was able to dive over after using the ref as a screen, which brought back memories of Ben Alexander and Lawrence in Pretoria earlier this season. Giteau’s conversion attempt hit the post which could prove costly in the end.
A converted try from Patrick Phibbs with only 5 minutes remaining was going to lead to a grandstand finish with the Brumbies only trailing by 2 points. The Blues were able to finish off the game with a drop goal to Brett which would conclude the scoring for the night and send the crowd home happy.
The Brumbies came away from the game with some injury concerns to several players with Christian Lealiifano the most serious with a torn posterior cruciate ligament ruling him out for 8-12 weeks. George Smith’s shoulder injury is also of concern and may rules him out of next weeks game.
Blues 39 – Rokocoko 2, Ranger, Stanely, Toeava tries, Brett 4 con, pen, drop goal
Brumbies 34– Ma’afu, Edmonds, Phibbs tries, Giteau 2 con, 5 pens
Put his hand up: Rocky Elsom – Another consistent game; rock solid in all areas.
Did himself no favours: A tough decision – AAC – some ineffective kicking to counter attacking specialists – not up to his usual high standards.
Bolter Watch: Andrew Smith – Because the NZ commentators talked him up and he did well on his debut.