By Patrick McKendry, NZ Herald

The Blues and Hurricanes have come through their final pre-season match at Onewa Domain today relatively unscathed despite the heat and on-field physicality – both of which were unrelenting.

It is the Blues who are likely to go into round one with a little more confidence, though. They outlasted the Hurricanes, who are due to board a 6am flight for Cape Town tomorrow, 29-28, and there was enough there to suggest they will push the Chiefs close at Eden Park next Friday night.

Their scrum was very good in the first half and No 10 Stephen Perofeta appears a shoo-in for a start after leading the attack well and having a hand in his team’s first two tries. They scored five in total to the Hurricanes’ four.

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The Blues lost their accuracy after the break but coach Leon MacDonald made many changes at halftime and the combinations were clearly lacking thereafter.

“We struggled in the second half,” MacDonald admitted. “Obviously we made a few changes and we lost our cohesion. I thought they played pretty well to catch up.”

There were similarities to last week’s win over the Chiefs at Waihi; the Blues just holding off the fast-finishing opposition, but MacDonald didn’t think it would be a trend when the season proper starts.

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“It’s not a conditioning thing – it’s just a little bit of game management. I don’t think we played into the wind well today, but it’s definitely something to be mindful of going into round one.”

He said of Perofeta, who will contest the No 10 jersey with Harry Plummer before Beauden Barrett arrives mid-season: “He attacked the line well and directed play pretty well. Harry didn’t have quite the luxury that Stevie had in terms of front-foot ball but he organised things pretty well and was combative at the line as well.”

For the Hurricanes, who fought back well after conceding a 17-14 lead at halftime, there is positivity despite it being their second pre-season loss in two matches.

They were better than they were against the Crusaders in Ashburton last weekend and they will have TJ Perenara and Jordie Barrett back to play the Stormers at Newlands. Left wing Ben Lam was again one of the quickest on the pitch.

Lock James Blackwell was wearing a moonboot at fulltime due to an injured big toe but coach Jason Holland didn’t think it was too serious.

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All Blacks midfielder Ngani Laumape had one of the toughest workloads of any player on the pitch. He played three quarters of the match and it was a deliberate move from a coach who wants the powerful centre to hit the ground running in round one.

“We wanted to get Ngani through some minutes,” Holland said. “We’ve previously fallen into the trap of going a bit half and half in these games and guys being a little bit underdone when we get to round one. We wanted to get Ngani through 60-65 minutes – the same with Du’Plessis Kirifi – to make sure they’re ready to go next week.”

MacDonald confirmed Rieko Ioane and Patrick Tuipulotu, two other interested bystanders, would be available to play the Chiefs. Prop Karl Tu’inukuafe got through the first half well.

Blues 29 (Tony Lamborn, Jordan Hyland, Dalton Papalii, Akira Ioane, Sam Nock tries; Stephen Perofeta con, Harry Plummer con)
Hurricanes 28 (Ben Lam, Ricky Riccitelli, Jamie Booth, Asafo Aumua tries; Fletcher Smith 2 cons, Jackson Garden-Bachop 2 cons)
Halftime: 17-14

This article first appeared on nzherald.co.nz and was republished with permission.

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