Waratahs suffer 10th straight defeat as Blues return to top of Super Rugby Trans-Tasman table
Running up a 48-21 scoreline at Eden Park, the Blues backed up their 50-3 thrashing of the Rebels in fine fashion against the lowly Waratahs, whose slim Trans-Tasman title prospects took a hefty hit in Auckland.
The Blues had multiple chances to add to that opening try as the likes of Heem, Finlay Christie and Rieko and Akira Ioane all burst through the New South Wales defensive line on three separate occasions within the opening 20 minutes.
None of those three opportunities eventuated to tries, though, but the dominance of the home side was clear to see.
Promising fullback Zarn Sullivan was at the forefront of his side’s impressive showing early on as he proved his worth as a tactical kicker, plugging the corners well to trap the Waratahs deep inside their own half.
Deprived of the possession and territory, the visitors also had to battle a multitude of injury problems as midfielder Lalakai Foketi and locks Murray Douglas and Jack Whetton were all aided off the field by medical staff at various stages in the first half.
All of that took its toll on the Waratahs, who conceded their second try when Heem tore the New South Welshmen apart with a scintillating counter-attack that enabled flanker Tom Robinson to go over near the half hour mark.
Not long afterwards, the Waratahs hit back out of nowhere through young loosehead prop Angus Bell, who busted through a hole in the Blues’ defence to canter in from 25 metres out, despite Christie’s desperate covering defence.
The Waratahs then doubled down on the try-scoring front when halfback Jake Gordon read the Blues’ stagnant attack brilliantly to pick off Christie’s pass and run 50-odd metres to bring the score to 15-14.
Unfazed by their opponent’s sudden fightback, the Blues built sustained pressure inside the Waratahs’ half, winning penalty after penalty before Kurt Eklund crashed over from a rolling maul a few minutes before the break.
The Waratahs tried to respond immediately with their own rolling maul try, but the Blues defended staunchly to hold a 22-14 lead into the sheds.
The away side were again handed an opportunity to score from close range after they were awarded a scrum inside the Blues’ 22, but Christie’s good defensive read allowed him to intercept a Will Harrison pass, and a string of penalties enabled to the hosts to march down the park.
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That was enough to see Rieko Ioane to scorch over from about 40 metres out as his head up play to bolt through the middle of a breakdown and exploit the opposition’s backfield, where there was no fullback, paid dividends.
A penalty try from a scrum that came shortly after prop Harry Johnson-Holmes was sent to the sin bin for repeated infringements compounded the Waratahs’ woes, but the visitors did chalk up a third try via replacement hooker Dave Porecki following some patient phase play inside enemy territory.
However, what the Waratahs did the Blues could do just as well, as the Auckland side’s forward pack sucked in defenders phase after phase which opened up space out wide for Heem to eat up and grab a brace.
As the match entered its final 10 minutes and the result looked out of reach for the Waratahs, teenage Blues wing Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens was thrust into the fray for his Super Rugby debut.
The 19-year-old wasn’t able to provide too much of an impact, although he he did nab a turnover in the 74th minute, which sparked a furious counter-attack that almost resulted in a try thanks to some deft touches from Sullivan.
The youngsters were just two of many to have starred for the Blues throughout the encounter.
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Departing lock Gerard Cowley-Tuioti was sensational throughout, stealing lineouts, pinching turnovers and making tackles at will.
Likewise, Akira Ioane was extremely busy, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, while Ofa Tuungafasi was a powerhouse at scrum time.
In the backline, Christie was lively and Otere Black did well to put many of his teammates into space, like his did in the final three minutes when he intercepted a pass and flung an audacious offload to Heem, who strolled in for a hat-trick.
Elsewhere, Rieko Ioane was his dangerous self with ball in hand, Robinson popped up time and time again and AJ Lam stood out strongly on the left wing, but perhaps the play that best personified the Blues’ performance was one of the last acts of the game.
With Whetton charging in for what almost seemed an inevitable try, replacement halfback Sam Nock came storming in from behind to knock the ball out of his hands and deny the Waratahs a consolation score.
That effort ensured the Blues walked away with a comfortable 48-21 victory in front of their home fans, keeping New Zealand’s unbeaten run against the Australians, as well as their Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title hopes, very much intact.
Waratahs 21 (Tries to Angus Bell, Jake Gordon and Dave Poreckil; 3 conversions to Will Harrison; yellow card to Harry Johnson-Holmes)
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