Rugby

Joe Rockocoko smokes the Force

Joe Rockocoko smokes the Force
Oh no, not Hodgo again.....

Oh no, not Hodgo again....

Auckland Blues 38 Western Force 17

Two steps forward, one step back. The Western Force were subject to an old fashioned carve-up as the rampant Blues went ballistic with expansive Polynesian style footy.

Only a late try to Bam Pocock in the 66th minute – it was 38-3 at the time – and a penalty try at the bell (for lazy running) provided a degree of respectability to the scoreline.

In this six try romp, Smokin’ Joe Rockocoko was in sublime form scoring a hat-trick of tries and seriously enhancing his All Black selection prospects.

The Force were completely outplayed after a promising start where they pressured the Blues line for the first 15 minutes of the match but came away with zip (apart from a penalty).

The contest was effectively over just after halftime when the Blues halfback Alby Mathewson shot out of the blocks 35m out on an angled run to the tryline without a hand being laid on him and taking the scoreline to 24-3.

This was followed five minutes later by the 3rd of Smokin’ Joe’s tries which sounded the death knell for any potential Force resurgence.

The Blues adopted the Queensland style of play (which also has a Polynesian influence – or is it the other way round?) with minimal kicking and retaining ball in hand.

A slow and mistake ridden start by the Blues suggested that this match was going to be a contest but from Rockocoko’s first try in the 18th minute it all went downhill.

Needing the win to keep their finals hopes alive the Blues eventually found their groove and the bonus point win was just what they were after.

That’s not to suggest that there weren’t any good performers from the West but as a team they just weren’t able to match the enthusiasm or talent that was on offer.

In fact, they were a bit pedestrian in comparison and their ‘popgun’ attack just couldn’t find any way to breakthrough until late in the game when all of the Blues reserves had been sent on for a run.

Their best chance was early on where an excellent break by Ryan Cross smoked Luke McAlister on the outside but he bombed it in the finishing by throwing a high flick pass to Barty who just couldn’t take it.

If you looked at the statistics of the game you would be wondering how this scoreline actually eventuated. The Force had 61% of the territory (49% v 51% possession) and handling errors, missed tackles, linebreaks etc were about even.

The Blues made 111 tackles to the Force’s 124 which suggests that both teams had to work hard on defence but the Blues were a whole lot more successful with theirs.

The Force were in the opposition 22m for 8.15 min v the Blues 5.14 min? This confirms the Blues defence was rock solid (which is obviously by the try count) and the Force attack was ineffective.

I’ve been banging on about this all year but apart from last week when they crossed for six tries against the Highlanders, they just don’t have an attack that can consistently penetrate a quality backline.

Big Dick looking the part

In the forward exchanges they were generally out-muscled with the scrum coming under considerable pressure.

The lineout operated effectively and Nathan Charles had a solid game first up, the assumption being that coach Mitchell is giving him experience for next year.

The Force international backrow were again their best.

Matt Hodgson is a phenom with his consistently high workrate (15 tackles, 10 runs – 43m) but Bam Pocock (20 tackles, 6 runs – 35m) and Richard Brown (9 tackles, 9 runs – 47m) weren’t too far behind.

Brown became more effective as the game wore on, especially in attack and looks to be quickly returning to form.

Nathan Sharpe was leading in the run stakes with 15 for 74m and made 9 tackles. Looking at his workrate for the last five matches he leads the run stats over Matt Hodgson and is definitely the go-forward man.

Conversely, Tucky Dunning came on for Nic Henderson in the 2nd half but only lasted for 14 minutes before Mitch pulled him off due to constant scrum infringements – three penalties conceded in a row.

In the backs, nobody covered themselves in glory but again Rabbit O’Connor was always the danger and substitute halfback Justin Turner and inside centre Sam Harris both made a difference late in the game.

For the Blues, they were a menace every time they attacked with width and depth (which was most of the time they had the ball). And this was without Rene Ranger in the first instance who had been benched.

Apart from Smokin’ Joe, Alby Mathewson was electric and Stephen Brett an accomplished organiser. Rudi Wulf was always dangerous on the fly and Isaia Toeava is looking like All Black class again.

“We should have got better conversion out of our start,” coach John Mitchell said following the match.

“We missed a penalty and a turnover try and from that point onwards we were very passive defensively and we suffered as a result. The Blues deserved to win.  They retained a lot of ball and built a lot of pressure,” Mitchell added.

The Western Force now return to Perthfontein to host the Crusaders on Friday for the team’s final home game of 2010. They’ve caused Richie McCaw’s team problems before over there but they’ll need to lift their intensity and focus if they are to stay competitive.

Blues 38 (J. Rokocoko (3), T. Woodcock, A. Mathewson, R. Wulf tries; L. McAlister 4 cons); Western Force 17 (D. Pocock, penalty tries; J. O’Connor pen, 2 cons).

Wallabies Watch

Put his hand up: Richard Brown. With Cliffy out for the count, Dick Brown is one of the No. 8 candidates and his performance yesterday confirms he’s on the way back.

Did himself no favours: Matt Dunning. Notwithstanding his injuries, Tucky was just starting to find a bit of form lately but his discipline is letting himself down.

Bolter watch: Justin Turner. O’Young and Sheehan had better watch out as this kid impresses every time he gets onto the park – excellent passing game from the bench.

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