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Blues v Hurricanes: Sotutu wins battle of the 8s, Canes lose favourites tag

By Finn Morton
Hoskins Sotutu of the Blues looks to pass 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)Hoskins Sotutu of the Blues looks to pass 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)

The Blues are first on the Super Rugby Pacific ladder after beating the Hurricanes 31-27 at Auckland’s Eden Park on Saturday night. It was a statement win that could have significant ramifications through the playoffs.

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Playing at home, the Blues shot out of the blocks from the get-go with Ricky Riccitelli coming close to scoring inside the opening couple of minutes. That red-hot start set the tone for the enthralling clash that was about to play out.

With the Blues ahead by four and time up on the clock, the Hurricanes unleashed waves of attacking pressure with the try line in sight, but it wasn’t to be in the end as the hosts hung on.

Here are five takeaways from the Blues’ massive win over the Canes.

Hurricanes no longer Super Rugby Pacific title favourites

It was a match that came right down to the wire.

The Hurricanes threw everything at the Blues, but in the end, the hosts were good enough to hang on. It was a result which could have a major say in the title race this season.

They’ve been the form team for almost three months in Super Rugby Pacific but the Hurricanes hold on the ‘favourites’ tag is over. With the Blues winning on Saturday night, they’ve now rightfully stepped up and replaced their Kiwi rivals as the team to beat.

Now, first thing’s first – this was a match fitting of a final. Both teams are certainly contenders, and it would be a surprise to see at least not one of them make it to the big dance in June, but the Blues may have an advantage.

By leapfrogging the Hurricanes into first place, the Blues can secure home field advantage right through the playoffs with an unbeaten end to the regular season. If they do that, then the fortress that is Eden Park could have a big say in this title race.

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The Hurricanes were missing some key players including the likes of Tyrel Lomax and Billy Proctor, that’s true, but the Blues at home are a different beast.

Hoskins Sotutu wins head-to-head battle with Bayden Iose

RugbyPass’ Ben Smith previewed the clash between the Blues’ Hoskins Sotutu and the Hurricanes’ Brayden Iose earlier this week. Both men have been phenomenal this season and would have to be in the mix for All Blacks selection this July.

Sotutu is the equal top try scorer in Super Rugby Pacific and Iose has simply enjoying a career-best season with some sensational work in all areas of the field. It promised to be an epic clash between two giants of New Zealand rugby.

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But in any competition, only one ‘winner’ can be crowned.

This time, it was Hoskins Sotutu.

Sotutu, who former All Black Sonny Bill Williams described on Stan Sport last month as “the best probably No. 8 in the world” at the moment, shot out of the blocks with a menacing carry inside the opening 30 seconds.

But that was it for a while. Both men only had one carry to their name midway through the first term but Sotutu finished the half the stronger of the two men with ‘8’ on their back.

Sotutu accelerated through a tackle attempt in the 27th minute to set the Blues up with a line break. The All Black also showed off some other skills shortly after by kicking the ball way downfield mere moments before the half-time break.

The Blues loose forward ran the ball for more metres, had an advantage in the linebreaks and defenders beaten tats, and was also working hard with his passing game. That’s some outstanding work.

But it’ not like this ‘battle’ was completely one-sided.

While Sotutu was one of the Blues’ co-leaders for tackles made for large periods of this contest, Iose had made at least a few more. Iose had made 14 at 100 per cent tackle completion with about 18 minutes left to play.

But if a victor must be crowned in the battle between two No. 8 giants, then Sotutu edges Iose. Whether both men can make the All Blacks squad for the July series remains to be seen, but if it’s one or the other, Sotutu seems to be winning that race.

Peter Lakai is knocking on the All Blacks’ door

Peter Lakai should be an All Black this year. Actually, let’s rewrite that, Peter Lakai needs to be an All Black this year. There has always been immense hype and expectation surrounding the young backrower and it’s incredible to see Lakai living up to that now.

Lakai, 21, outperformed All Black Dalon Papali’i in a big way on Saturday night. While Papali’i went missing, Lakai seemed to soar with the Hurricanes enforcer scoring a decisive try early in the second half to give the visitors the lead.

By that stage of the match, Lakai had already carried the ball eight time hard at the Blues’ defensive wall, and the Wellingtonian was also beating any Blues players with 11 tackles to his name.

The most the Blues had at that stage was 10, shared between All Blacks Ofa Tu’ungafasi and Hoskins Sotutu. If that type of effort and result isn’t piquing the interest of national selections than what will?

Keep in mind, Lakai not only outperformed Papali’i but the youngster is also keeping Du’Plessis Kirifi out of the starting side. Kirifi would be welcomed into many Super Rugby Pacific starting teams with open arms, but the competition for places at the Canes is special.

As an honourable mention, halfback TJ Perenara has to be considered a frontrunner now to not just make the All Blacks’ squad but to feature in their first matchday 23 against Steve Borthwick’s England.

Blues will be tested again as they continue title push without star fullback

Unfortunately, it happened again. Just 23 minutes into his return from an already lengthy stint on the sidelines, Blues fullback Zarn Sullivan was carted off the field with what’s believed to be another knee injury.

It was tough to watch the Kiwi leave the field, and that feeling was surely felt right across New Zealand. For all the hard work and resilience that he would’ve had to show since first hurting his knee against the Crusaders, this match was supposed to be a celebration for Sullivan.

But once the Maori All Black fell to the ground in attack without anyone that close to him, it was painfully clear that Sullivan would be set for another injury layoff.

It was both touching and saddening to see brother Bailyn from the Hurricanes briefly ignore the team huddle to stand by his injured sibling. Zarn Sullivan was taken off the field shortly after and was met by claps and cheers of acknowledgement from the crowd.

It was big news earlier this week when the Blue confirmed that Sullivan would return against the Hurricanes, with many tipping the New Zealander to play a big role in their push for a Super Rugby Pacific title this season.

But it seems, at least for a while at a minimum, that quest for championship glory will continue with Sullivan. Cole Forbes is a more than handy replacement, but Sullivan is a special player which leaves a hole that is tough to fill.

Rugby fans are the real winners with afternoon kick-offs

This match had a Test match feel to it. The travelling Hurricanes are first on the ladder with just one loss to their name, but a defeat on Saturday would see the Blues leapfrog them with only a few rounds left in the regular season.

The stake couldn’t have been much higher, and the drama of the Hurricanes’ last-minute injury withdrawals only added to the theatre that makes rugby so great. It already had the makings of a classic but the afternoon kick-off made it that much better, too.

Thousands packed the stands at Auckland’s Eden Park to either cheer on the Blues or Hurricanes, or potentially just to enjoy themselves on what looked like a beautiful day in the north island city.

Two Titans went head-to-head at a family-friendly time. Rugby fans were the winners and it should be the blueprint for scheduling fixtures moving forward. This mid-afternoon game should be seen as a primetime fixture as opposed to the usual late-night contest.

If Saturday’s clash showed us something on a bigger picture scale it’s that this is what fans would love more of. If afternoon Kiwi and Aussie derbies become the norm, then the big crowds will come.

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Comments

4 Comments
D
David 72 days ago

well the favourites dont always win and let scott robertson chose his number 8

B
Bret 72 days ago

an impressive nail biting win for the Blues...but for mine the losing of the game sits with Isaia Walker-Leawere who fumbled balls from kick offs, broken play and then stripped of the ball by Sam Nock in the final minute…

S
Samuel 72 days ago

Juicy stuff well covered I’d go as far as to say that the referee was a key component in keeping it a tasty spectacle

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Wonton 6 hours ago
Why Scott Robertson may need to ease big names aside for All Blacks' flexibility

One game against Fiji is not enough to show that a player is ready to play the likes of South Africa. Spreading the ball wide too much increases the risk of turnovers and we turned the ball over 20 times against Fiji which is a lot more than what we did in the two England tests. We actually turned the ball over the same amount of times (20) against England in the 2019 semi final which we lost. Fiji didn’t make us pay for those turnovers but other teams will. In the 2nd test against England this year we had 100% success rate on attacking rucks. That’s the first time the AB’s have achieved this since the 2019 opening game of the RWC against South Africa. South Africa won last years RWC and Jesse Kriel did not pass once. The days of the Conrad Smith type centre might be over. Also Conrad Smith debuted in 2004 but he did not become an incumbent until Nonu did also in 2008. As for Rieko Ioane he and Jordie Barrett put in some very strong midfield hits in the 2nd test forcing turnovers several times. Rieko Ioane hasn’t played wing in years. If Proctor is moved to 13 then the best I think Ioane can hope for is an impact player off the bench. He does not have the aerial game of Caleb Clarke or the workrate of Tele’a for 11 and going to be selected over Jordan at 14. However its much too early to replace Rieko with Proctor. Rieko was excellent in the knock out rounds of the RWC. All Proctor has to show on his test CV is a good game against Fiji.

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N
Nick 8 hours ago
How 'gazelle' Nick Frost thawed the hearts of Wallaby fans at Suncorp

Its almost like you read my comment on the other site on sunday morning Nick - you flagged all the same examples! 😝 Frost was motm for mine. That eg in the 56th minute in particular impressed me, nothing but sheer effort and a dupont/smith-like tracking line behind the D. Surely an effort like that from frost marries perfectly with that quote from schmidt at the start of the year about effort and work rate being 70-80% and talent is just the icing on top… What it also showed though was the players not making that effort, in that example he goes past both valetini and ikitau, and in the eg that finished with valetini scoring hunter paisami barely breaks a canter to support the break. And then there was the chase from wright and lancaster for the 2nd georgian try! One blemish - at kickoff I saw frost miss or get bumped off a few tackles and I felt like I saw what has been holding his selection back. I think because he is so big and is trying to get low to tackle, he seems to dip his head and ends up losing his balance or ability to adjust and ends up missing or making a soft hit. I think in the first 2 minutes he misses or makes 2-3 soft tackles, but you could clearly see the work rate and desire! He (the pod) also missed a kick restart or two? Also very happy to see harry wilson back in the fold. What impressed me from him wasn’t all the usual stuff he is known for, but all the other bits that usually let him down. He looked surprisingly good in the air at lineout time, physical at the breakdown, and good in the maul peeling off 3 georgians for one of the maul tries. Id have frost, skelton, wright as my 4-6 with LSL and wilson on the bench. i’m once again unconvinced by tom wirght - he was very good game 1, but game 2-3 he was back to more rocks than diamonds. There is no real other player to usurp him really so he stays in the team for now but I think Joe should put kellaway wherever he serves the team best and wright can be moved around him. Did donno do enough to overtake noah? My gut says no. They clearly had a plan to attack more so he looked better in that regard because he just had more opportunity, but they looked better off tate (who had a v good game also) then they did off donno.

31 Go to comments
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FEATURE How 'gazelle' Nick Frost thawed the hearts of Wallaby fans at Suncorp How 'gazelle' Nick Frost thawed the hearts of Wallaby fans at Suncorp
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