The Blues move off the bottom of the New Zealand conference in a come from behind win over a tough Force side at Eden Park.
After a slow start, the Blues found their feet, scoring four consecutive tries on the way to a 24-15 win.
The Force had the early going in the match, dominating possession and earning the first points of the game off the boot of Jono Lance, although they also lost Ryan Louwrens to a knee injury. Soon after the Force benefited from a sloppy pass by Augustine Pulu, throwing together multiple attacking phases before Richie Arnold found the line on his starting debut and gave them an 8-0 lead.
The Blues, having been stunned by the Force’s start, started seeing more of the ball and were earning more field position as the Force started to give away penalties. Jimmy Tupou was brought off, having taken a shot to the head from his teammate and replaced by Akira Ioane, and soon the Blues had multiple attacking set pieces, but they were stifled by the Force.
Matt Duffie – try-scorer for Blues before half-time
The Force’s disciplinary woes continued as the Blues’ quick tap forced Naisarani to tackle Pulu despite not retreating and was subsequently yellow-carded. This marked a turning point in the match, with the Blues using their man advantage to full effect, scoring off a rolling maul with A. Ioane the beneficiary.
Less than three minutes later the Blues were in front, George Moala taking advantage of a serious mismatch to find space in behind the Force line before sending Matt Duffie in to score his third try in two games.
After all the Force’s huffing and puffing, they went into half time four points down.
Halftime score: Blues 12 – Force 8
19-year-old tight head prop Shambeckler Vui on debut for the Force
The second half started much like the first with the Force having the better of the play, making a couple of breaks but being unable to make a dent on the scoreboard.
TJ Faiane thought he had his first Super Rugby try when he ran in a lost ball but the replay showed it was an accidental knock on. What followed was back and forth rugby with a lot of mistakes and failed chances before the Blues found their way over once again.
Reiko Ioane received the ball inside his own 22, sped past Marcel Brache and interchanged passes with Collins and Nanai before outpacing Chance Peni to dot the ball under the posts. The Blues iced the game and got themselves a within grasp of a bonus point after Ian Prior threw a loose pass, which was intercepted by Duffie. Then Ihaia West broke the Force line again and set up Collins, who found the corner.
The Force weren’t to be denied before the end, with Matt Philip finding space outside and beating a defender before handing off to Dane Haylett-Petty, who ran the remaining 40 metres to make the scoreline respectable and denying the Blues a bonus point. The Blues did find the try line once more, but we’re denied by a forward pass and had to settle with just the four ladder points from the game.
Final score: Blues 24 – Force 15
Matt Philip – one of the best for the Western Force
The Game Changer
The Force were the better team for most of the first half: that was until an Isi Naisarani yellow card left them down a man.
In that ten-minute period the Blues notched up two tries in quick succession to go into half time with all the momentum.
It ultimately left the Force to chase the game, something they don’t do well.
The G&GR MOTM
There were some top performances from both teams including Philip (Force) and Moala (Blues) but the award goes to Akira Ioane. He replaced injured Jimmy Tupou and made an immediate impact, scoring the Blues first try, before exhibiting a commanding second half performance which will leave Blues coach Tana Umaga happy he responded so well to being benched.
Dane Haylett-Petty made his return from being rested and played well, providing the Force with a much needed injection in attack. Polota-Nau was impressive both in defence and at scrum time, while Billy Meakes put his best foot forward on his injury return. The knee injury to Ryan Louwrens will be a concern, while Jono Lance was neither good nor bad.
Akira Ioane – Green & Gold Man of the Match
Score & Scorers
Blues – 24
Tries: A. Ioane (35′), M. Duffie (38′), R. Ioane (65′), M. Collins (74′).
Conversions: P. Francis (36′), I. West (66′).
Force – 15
Tries: R. Arnold (20′), D. Haylett-Petty (78′).
Conversion: I.Prior (79′).
Penalty: J. Lance (16′).
Cards & Citings
Force – I. Naisarani 29′ – (Not retreating).
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