Brilliant Blues start Super Rugby Aotearoa in style

Author
Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 14 Jun 2020, 6:02PM
Beauden Barrett celebrates Dalton Papalii's try in their win over the Hurricanes. (Photo / Photosport)
Beauden Barrett celebrates Dalton Papalii's try in their win over the Hurricanes. (Photo / Photosport)

Brilliant Blues start Super Rugby Aotearoa in style

Author
Liam Napier, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 14 Jun 2020, 6:02PM

Blues 30
Hurricanes 20

They arrived on trains, waited at bus stops, rolled down Bond Street, watched a Hercules plane flyover and streamed onto the Eden Park pitch after the final whistle. The buzz is back around the Blues.

On a mild Sunday afternoon the 43,000 in attendance - Auckland's biggest Super Rugby crowd in 15 years, many of them families with young kids, too - brought a sense of occasion akin to test match fever.

Those clad in blue were not left disappointed, either.

The Blues needed all of 50 minutes to find their groove and shake off a spirited yet undermanned Hurricanes side, but the fact they did will encourage many who jumped at the chance to again witness live sport to return in the coming weeks.

Beauden Barrett's debut for the Blues from fullback against his former team – in his first match for almost eight months – did not live up to the initial hype. The All Blacks playmaker was well contained and largely limited in his involvement from the back as he settles into his new team.

Barrett's time will come, but the most notable moment of his debut for the franchise came when Dane Coles savoured rubbing his head after scoring in the corner. Barrett laughed off the moment but Coles' reaction sums up the sentiment from those Hurricanes fans still pained by his move north.

On this occasion, others stepped up for the Blues - just as they did earlier this year when they put together a four-match unbeaten run before the coronavirus shutdown arrived.

First five-eighth Otere Black delivered another composed display, kicking 15 points before being subbed for the closing stages. Rieko Ioane hit the ball at pace and regularly beat defenders as he begins to find a home at centre.

TJ Faiane, such an underrated presence, was one of the Blues' best. Faiane scored one try from a Mark Telea offload and he then laid on Dalton Papalii's strike 10 minutes in to the second sell with a brilliant grubber after taking the ball to the line and throwing twin dummies.

 

It was this movement which pushed the Blues out from their 14-13 halftime lead into a comfortable position, allowing them to control the match from then on.

Up front Patrick Tuipulotu hit hard all game long, and Hoskins Sotutu snaffled several telling turnovers.

Blues coach Leon MacDonald will be frustrated by his side's discipline. They gave away 10 penalties in the first half alone which stunted momentum and attacking flow.

But after three months off, this victory cannot be scoffed at. Tougher tests await yet the platform is clearly there for MacDonald and his management team to build on - this was the first time since 2014 the Blues have won successive NZ derby matches.

If this result is any gauge Super Rugby Aotearoa could be a grind for the Hurricanes.

They missed Jordie Barrett's influence from the back and Ardie Savea came off the bench for the final 30 minutes in his return from a knee injury suffered in the World Cup semifinal defeat to England.

While the Hurricanes kept fighting until the end, scoring their third try to Jamie Booth which closed the margin, the reality is they were a distant second.

The visitors' lineout will be a focal point of improvement after losing five of their own throws.

Defensively they also gave up cheap points - Hurricanes centre Vince Aso guilty of gifting the opening try to the Blues when he rushed so far out of the line without making a spot tackle. The defensive error left Ioane ample room to move, and as he let Caleb Clarke fly down the left edge there was no stopping the Blues wing.

After the Highlanders defeated the Chiefs last night in a stop-start match which featured 30 penalties, another 28 here is sure to form a talking point as teams attempt to adjust to the crackdown at the breakdown.

The immediate aftermath should, however, focus on the Blues.

This team has the potential to give this competition a real shake. They should only get better from here.

Blues 30 (Caleb Clarke, TJ Faiane, Dalton Papalii tries, Otere Black 3 cons, 3 pens)
Hurricanes 20 (Dane Coles, Ben Lam, Jamie Booth tries, Jackson Garden-Bachop pen, TJ Perenara con)
HT: 14-13