There was indeed potential for this last round robin game of Super Rugby Aotearoa to be a dead rubber, what with the Chiefs’ position in next week’s final already guaranteed. Yet, fielding a team of six debutants, the Chiefs produced a buoyant display full of youthful intent and exuberance eventually missing out as the Blues took their performance up a gear late in the second half.
Turning the heat on in the first half the visitors had the Blues scrambling at points and were denied an early try for accidental offside. Taking advantage of a lack of defence around the breakdown, the Chiefs played it fast and loose and drew level with 20 to go, never letting the men from Auckland out of their sights.
However, it was, in the end, the bench that proved the vital difference as the Blues unleashed experience upfront to put down the Chiefs enthusiastic display and spare any blushes as they charged to a 39-19 victory.
1. Karl Tu’inukuafe – 7/10
A solid night of scrummaging from the mustached machine facing an evenly weighted pack. Refused to budge and carried well around the park, charging hard off the lineout in the leadup to the Blues second try. Off at 54 mins.
2. Kurt Eklund – 7.5
Had a busy night with plenty to do at lineout time and was up to the task throwing effectively. Backed it up showing real intent in his attacking performance, drifting superbly off Christie’s pass to charge in next to the posts for his 4th try of the season joining a host of hookers at the top of the charts. Off at 75.
3. Nepo Laulala – 6
Much like his propping companion, was solid at scrum time. At times, was found out defensively with his spacing at ruck time and was lucky to have Norris’ try ruled out. Off at 63.
4. Gerard Cowley-Tuioti – 7.5
Tireless performance from the lock, gobbling up the feeds at lineout time and a constant worker in both attack and defense. Ranked second in runs and tackles for the Blues pack.
5. Sam Darry – 6
Took well off the top at lineout time but didn’t get much ball in play. Drew an important penalty after being tipped illegally by Tahuriorangi and provided an effective maul presence as the Blues attempted to change tack, but went off his feet to concede the penalty soon after. Replaced by Goodhue at halftime.
6. Tom Robinson – 7.5
Worked his socks off for the Blues, leading with unerring energy and definitely reached his step count for the night. Tackled like a homing missile notching up the most for his team and charged forward whenever it was asked of him, high-knee drive and all. Intelligent use of the captain’s referral to rule out the Norris try in the first half but potentially gave it away cheaply early doors in the second.
7. Adrian Choat – 7
Gritty performance from the man on his fourth Blues appearance. Carried well and was rewarded with a try before coming up short in a second attempt at the whitewash. Occasionally poorly organized around the rucks but indicative of the Blues’ general issues in the first half. Came and went with two blood injuries.
8. Hoskins Sotutu – 8
The Blues attacking leader making the most metres for his team and showing an outright refusal to lose to the year belows. Showed great energy to get his hands on the ball dealing with a lack of structure by busting forward in individual bursts. Offered himself as good lineout option and was rewarded with a well deserved try, the Blues fourth. Notched up two assists and an NFL offload for good measure.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 30, 2021
9. Finlay Christie – 7
Brought fantastic dynamism and kicking variation. Produced a whole range of box kicks both high and long allowing for competition and relief when needed. Handy under the high ball and didn’t go missing when tackles were needed although missed a handful late on. Off at 54.
10. Otere Black – 5.5
Lacked a structured midfield in the first forty as the Chiefs provided strong defense uncapable of being unlocked. Got his lines mixed up occasionally and didn’t show the poise from pivot he is capable of. A mixed bag of kicking off the tee and out of hand.
11. Caleb Clarke – 5.5
Quiet night from the usually dynamic winger as he was unable to find any space to really let loose as another team marked him out the game. Perhaps victim to the trend of one-up runners with a lack of support leaving him isolated at times.
12. Tanielu Tele’a – 5.5
Endeavored to link up with Black making good metres. Showed he definitely has a box of tricks in terms of offloading and kicking but also guilty of a couple of unforced errors. Off on 44 for Plummer.
13. Rieko Ioane – 6
Defensively at sixes and sevens at times as he adjusted to another centre pairing. Gave away three early on with a high seatbelt tackle on Wainui but was busy and bustling around the park. Unable to offer himself in attack but this is potentially a new kind of Ioane we are seeing. Notched a neat assist.
14. Bryce Heem – 6
A relatively assured defensive performance from the 32-year-old, putting in two important cover tackles in the first half. Unable to conjure up the attacking spark the Blues needed however. Started the game with a collision and retired on 58 minutes after a rib-tickler from Sowakula.
15. Zarn Sullivan – 6.5
Had a go from 50m out early doors, a tough ask to open his Blues account. Showed a range of long and measured kicks but at times couldn’t find the open blades of grass that are there at provincial level. Scrambled well to stop his brother on the line so will definitely have the bragging rights at the dinner table. Showed maturity in his defensive performance and backed himself well with ball in hand to score in the second half.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) April 30, 2021
16. Soane Vikenna – N/A
17. Ofa Tuungafasi – 7.5
On at 55 – the definition of instant impact. Turned an even scrum to a dominant one pushing the Chiefs back at a rate of knots. Drew a scrum penalty and showed his class and poise as a Blues centurion and All Blacks regular. A classic finisher performance.
18. Marcel Renata – 6
On at 63. Got involved with the carries and was the Robin to Ofa’s Batman as the two took it to the Chiefs in the scrum. Dropped the ball with the try-line begging.
19. Josh Goodhue – 7
On at half time. Instantly provided dividends at the lineout and was an experienced head that the Blues needed to finish the game.
20. Akira Ioane – 7
On and off for blood. On at 55. Provided himself as a lineout option and made seven tackles. Another finisher with All Blacks pedigree that the Blues were able to rely on.
21. Sam Nock – 7
On at 55. Continued where Christie left off providing good pace and kicking options to the Blues game. A calming presence and a clever head to outwit Roe late on.
22. Harry Plummer – 7
On at 45 and added an additional playmaker to back up a struggling Black, providing more space and time. Effective on defence scoring a crucial turnover after nearly 10 phases of buildup for the Chiefs. Defensively sound.
23. AJ Lam – 6
On at 59 for a rocky start shooting out of the defensive line and missing a crucial tackle for the Chiefs second try as they drew level. Was in the right place at the right time as the Blues machine began to purr and was rewarded with two late tries.
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