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Super 14 off to great start

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Friday, February 12, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

The home side made a promising start to lead at halftime 20-12, but the Hurricanes scored 19 unanswered points in the second half and punished the Blues for indiscipline which saw it concede nine penalty goals, with centre Isaia Toeava sin-binned in the 68th minute.

Apart from revisiting the first Super rugby game played, back in 1996, between the same sides, the game was notable for the re-emphasis by the Sanzar referees on ruling the tackled ball law as it was originally intended.

The result was the predicted harsh rulings for tackle offences during the first quarter but then quicker ball started to flow, and the result was some of the sort of back play traditionally expected of rugby.

Expectations that the Blues' new-look combination would offer some of the dash and vigour of teams from the earlier years of Super rugby resulted in a crowd of 23,000 turning out on the North Shore. And while the side responded in a manner not seen for several seasons, it lacked discipline.

Most local interest centred on the inside-back pairing of halfback Alby Mathewson and first five-eighths Stephen Brett – the weak hinge of Blues sides in recent seasons. Mathewson offered positive direction and swift clearance and Brett showed the sort of dash long missed as he dashed across for a fourth minute try doing what a first five-eighths does best, making use of quick ball and accelerating through the gap to score.

Soon after it was his clever scissors pass which saw prop John Afoa trundle over close to the posts for a 16th minute try.

The Hurricanes struggled to get continuity in their backline during the first 50 minutes, and even when second five-eighths Ma'a Nonu made an intercept as Brett attempted a double round with second five-eighths Benson Stanley, the Hurricanes, even with Nonu, centre Conrad Smith and wing Hosea Gear, were unable to grab the try.

However, there was no mistake at the second chance after 56 minutes when an attempted long pass from Brett was intercepted by Gear with no-one in front of him. Halfback Piri Weepu's conversion gave the Hurricanes a 22-20 lead which Weepu extended with a penalty goal four minutes later.

From that point, there was a much more confident air about all that the Hurricanes tried and Nonu

And the Blues defence was solid, never better demonstrated than the 54th minute welcome Stanley gave Hurricanes replacement first five-eighths Aaron Cruden. It was a crunching tackle which left the former New Zealand Under-21 star prostrate on the ground.

Brett could not have hoped for a better start to his Blues career. After the Hurricanes first five-eighth Willie Ripia landed a second minute penalty goal, the first incursion into the visitors' territory by the Blues produced a rare piece of perfection.

A clean lineout take by flanker Jerome Kaino resulted in quick ball to the backs and Brett was able to race straight through a wide gap and score, untouched, by the posts. His conversion gave the Blues a 7-3 lead after four minutes.

Reality dawned soon after, however, when a 22m dropout went out on the full. And from the resulting scrum, a penalty saw Ripia land his second goal.

Brett was in the action again 16 minutes into the game, after some strong counter-attacking which featured strong runs from second five-eighths Benson Stanley and wing Joe Rokocoko. From a ruck, Brett again punctured the Hurricanes defence and then worked a scissors with prop John Afoa who trundled over beneath the posts. Brett's conversion had the Blues out to a 17-6 lead.

Scorers: Blues 20 (Stephen Brett, John Afoa tries; Brett 2 con, 2 pen) Hurricanes 34 (Hosea Gear try, Piri Weepu con, 4 pen; Willie Ripia 5 pen) HT: 20-12