By Patrick McKendry, NZ Herald

The Blues have withstood a big second-half comeback from the Chiefs to win their pre-season Super Rugby game in Waihi on Friday.

Playing in hot conditions in a front of a large crowd of holiday makers, Leon MacDonald’s team scored four tries to three to win 26-19.

They led 19-0 at halftime but MacDonald declared himself happy with the performance.

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Kurt Eklund, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Matt Duffie and Hoskins Sotutu went over for the Blues, with Samisoni Taukei’aho scoring a double for the Chiefs and Naitoa Ah Kuoi also crossing the line in front of new coach Warren Gatland.

“We wanted to run through some of our systems and get some game time,” MacDonald said. “It’s hard to know where you’re at at this time of year. It’s been a short pre-season by normal standards.

“There were some things we were really happy with and some things we were not but that’s what you get in pre-season games.

“At times, some of our defence was outstanding. We showed a lot of guts there and got really physical. Some of the work at the breakdown – against a team traditionally brilliant at the breakdown – I thought we held our own there as well.”

The only injury concern for the Blues was first-five Otere Black, who damaged a rib. MacDonald expected him to be available for the round one encounter against the Chiefs at Eden Park on January 31.

“Otere picked up a niggle which is a bit of a worry but Stephen [Perofeta] did a great job there and obviously Harry Plummer played there as well, so some good options for us and a few [selection] headaches maybe going into round one.”

All Black Beauden Barrett won’t make his first appearance for the Blues until mid-April.

One of the players under the most scrutiny – apart from the Chiefs’ returning All Black Damian McKenzie, who ran at fullback following his return from a knee injury – was Blues midfielder Joe Marchant, a 23-year-old England international on loan from Harlequins.

“Joe has been fantastic,” MacDonald said. “Today was a bit of a bonus for him because he’s coming off a reasonably long-term injury. He got 20 minutes out there in the heat. It’s different weather to where he’s come from. So far he’s fitting in brilliantly. He’s a really likeable guy, he loves his rugby and he’s hard working, so I think he’ll fit in really well.”

The Blues play the Hurricanes at the Takapuna Rugby Club next Friday in their final pre-season match before facing the Chiefs in their first competition match. MacDonald said he doubted Gatland and company would have gained too much intelligence from the exercise.

“You don’t show your whole hand, obviously. We’re looking at certain parts of our game as opposed to our ability to trick them through special moves or anything like that. The tackle area, defensive line, the breakdown, getting our set piece under way and backs trying to get some cohesion. At times, we did all those things well.”

Blues 26 (Kurt Eklund, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Matt Duffie, Hoskins Sotutu tries; Stephen Perofeta 2 cons, Harry Plummer con)

Chiefs 19 (Samisoni Taukei’aho 2, Naitoa Ah Kuoi tries; Kaleb Trask 2 cons)

Halftime: 19-0

This article first appeared on and was republished with permission.

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