Under-strength Chiefs deal to Blues again

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Friday, March 2, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Attempting to get their way back into the game in the final quarter, the Blues were too hesitant in clearing the ball and the indecision proved costly as turnover after turnover kept the Chiefs at front.


It was a credit to the Chiefs that in spite of the late loss of lock Brodie Retallick and wing Shaun Stevenson, and the mid-game loss of prop Nepo Laulala, and all the other injuries in their squad, that they were able to retain their composure. By contrast the Blues were left to think if they couldn't win a game with their opposition down on strength they would wonder when they might ever win.

And it was a summation of the Blues' night that their last chance of the game, two minutes into injury time, saw a not straight throw to the lineout.

Down 10-14 at the break, the Chiefs mounted an all out assault at the resumption. When Blues captain and halfback Augustine Pulu inexplicably failed to clear ball from a ruck, the Chiefs too easily counter-rucked, won the ball and set up a chance from a five-metre lineout which saw lock Mitchell Brown score.

Then, when attempting to run back a kick from the restart Blues fullback Melani Nanai threw a pass which went to ground and was picked up by Chiefs halfback Brad Weber and he raced 45m unchallenged and scored.

Rallying themselves, the Blues turned the pressure back on the Chiefs and as they conceded penalties, they had to turn back lineout drives and eventually the pressure told with a gap opening up for first five-eighths Bryn Gatland who went through to score.

While they started well enough the Blues were unable to maintain their control to establish a winning position.

Down on strength, the last thing the Chiefs needed was indiscipline but when penalised at a ruck, the Blues kicked to the corner. From the lineout take by Patrick Tuipulotu, hooker James Parsons burst through the first defensive line and slipped a backhand pass to Pulu to open the scoring after six minutes.

McKenzie may have missed a reasonable penalty goal attempt from the restart, but from the 22m dropout he charged onto the ball, created a gap and provided wing Solomon Alaimalo with a chance before he was halted by a Gatland tackle.

From a scrum out from the Blues line No.8 Taleni Seu was on hand after Wainui ran in from the short side to create the chance for Seu to pick up the ball and barge through.

Wing Matt Duffie looked hesitant when fielding a Chiefs midfield kick, but once he went to ground the ball was freed for centre George Moala to open up space and when tackled he flicked the ball to No.8 Akira Ioane who needed no second invitation to beat three tacklers and score by the post.

Scoring a try once again seemed to upset the Blues' defensive concentration and outside backs Alaimalo, Wainui and centre Anton Lienert-Brown combined, with the latter's beautifully-weighted pass putting Wainui in out wide.

Lock Scott Scrafton had an outstanding game of hard graft. While handling his lineout work well, he contested for the ball in mauls, winning one key turnover in front of the Blues posts in the first half and while contributing to a penalty reversal it was a minor transgression in light of his other work.

Both sides featured in breakout plays late in the first half and some fearsome challenges occurred, the most notable from Duffie on McKenzie which proved tackles don't have to be around the neck to cause pain. Duffie executed the perfect tackle to McKenzie's midriff and the fullback spent three or four minutes on the deck before regaining his feet.

Scorers: Blues 21 (Augustine Pulu, Akira Ioane, Bryn Gatland tries; Gatland 3 con) Chiefs 27 (Taleni Seu, Sean Wainui, Mitchell Brown, Brad Weber tries; Damian McKenzie 2 con, pen). HT: 14-10