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‘Very demanding’: Blues captain compares win over Canes to ‘Test match’

By Finn Morton
Ricky Riccitelli of the Blues celebrates on full time during the round 12 Super Rugby Pacific match between Blues and Hurricanes at Eden Park, on May 11, 2024, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Captain Patrick Tuipulotu has described the Blues’ clash with the Hurricanes as a “Test match” after the men from the top of the north island rose to first on the ladder with a 31-27 win on Saturday evening.

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In a battle between the top two teams in Super Rugby Pacific, the Blues shot out of the blocks at Auckland’s Eden Park with hooker Ricky Riccitelli coming close to scoring inside the first two minutes.

The Blues kept the foot on the gas with centre Bryce Heem scoring shortly after before the visitors hit back only a few minutes later. Hurricanes skipper Brad Shields scored in the seventh minute which set the tone for what was to come.

It was an enthralling contest with both teams scoring two tries each in the first half and then repeating that feat after the break. The difference was the accuracy of Blues first five Harry Plummer off the goal-kicking tee.

Plummer nailed a penalty with only five minutes left to play which gave the hosts a 31-27 advantage. The Hurricanes looked to spoil the party with one last attack of the Blues’ try line at the death, but Sam Nock turned over the ball to deny the visitors.

“Those are the games you want to be a part of. Very tough and a bit of a seesaw battle right down to the wire. Very hard game to play,” Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said on Sky Sport NZ.

“We often put a measurement on defence and in tough times like that that’s where it counts,” he added. “For us, we want to back our D and trust it so it was good to see that paid off in the end.

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“The Hurricanes were getting a lot of good go-forward and I think there’s a defensive passage there where we managed to take them back and put the pressure on.

“Very pleasing that we can back our D.”

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That result shakes up Super Rugby Pacific with the Blues rising to first on the ladder while the Hurricanes sit two points behind them in second. The ACT Brumbies and Chiefs aren’t too far behind, either.

The Hurricanes have been the form team of the competition for almost three months, with the likes of Peter Lakai, TJ Perenara and Ruben Love impressing. But this result has the potential to have a significant impact on the title race.

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If the Blues can win the rest of their regular season matches and secure at least two bonus points, then they can secure home field advantage all the way through to the final should they progress that far.

“It was a Test match for us. With a couple more games to go until the finals I think it puts us in good stead,” Tuipulotu continued.

“A top-of-the-table clash, it was always going to be down to the wire, very hard.

“Physically very demanding. I think right from my first carry it was very tough and certainly felt the shoulders out there.

“Very good for our season.”

But it’s not like the race for the top spot is over by any means. The Blues have three Kiwi derbies left against the Highlanders, Crusaders (away) and the Chiefs, and all three of those teams will be desperate to win for their own reasons.

As for the Hurricanes, who have now lost two of their last three matches, they play Moana Pasifika at home next before taking on the Chiefs and Highlanders to round out their regular season campaign.

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“Rugby is a pretty cruel game,” Hurricanes captain Brad Shields said.

“(It was) pretty intense. I think it was exactly what everyone expected and exactly what we expected.

“I think we probably let them in the game too early there at the start but I think our fightback and our ability to stay in it was bloody good.

“Rugby is pretty cruel at the end of the day. When you get an opportunity at the end and you can’t quite get there it’s pretty gutting.”

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William 4 hours ago
All Blacks vs England takeaways: Richie Who? Time for Cortez

Correct analysis of Perofeta’s bungling of the try opportunity Ben. Never ‘fixed’ Steward as he came across in defence and passed too early. Steward didn’t have to break his stride and simply moved on to pressure Telea. Never scanned the easier option of passing to the two supporting players on the inside. Beauden Barrett showed how it is done when he put Telea in for his try. Another point from the game is that the rush defence is hard to maintain as the number of phases increases. From scrums the defensive line only contains backs who all have roughly the same pace. Once forwards are involved, the defence has players with variable speeds often leading to a jagged line. It also tends to lose pace overall giving the attack more time and space. Beauden Barrett’s break to set up Telea’s try came because Baxter went in to tackle McKenzie and Steward went out to cover Telea. Barrett has a massive hole to run through, then commits Steward by passing as late as possible and Telea scores untouched. Another comment I would make is that Ben Earl is a good player and generally an excellent defender but he made three significant misses in the series, two of which led to All Black tries. Got stepped by Perofeta in Dunedin for Savea’s try, missed McKenzie in Auckland leading to what should have been a certain try being set up by Perofeta and was one of the tacklers who couldn’t stop Savea in the leadup to Telea’s first try. Perhaps he should contact Owen Farrell to pick up a few tips from ‘tackle school’.

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