Blues beat Waratahs 41-12 in Super Rugby quarterfinals but Crusaders may lie ahead
AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — The Auckland-based Blues narrowly failed to win the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific title last year, losing to the Crusaders in the final. They remain on track to win the competition in its second season after a 41-12 win in a quarterfinal Friday over the New South Wales Waratahs.
But they now face a tough semifinal next weekend, possibly against the defending champion Crusaders.
The Blues conceded the first try to the Waratahs after only three minutes but went to win by five tries to two with a performance which was only sporadically up to their highest standards.
They squandered a lot of possession against an under-strength Waratahs team, mainly through flyhalf Beauden Barrett’s aimless kicking. The Waratahs also showed tenacity in defense, though they were significantly outplayed.
A try to prop Nepo Laulala in the 38th was pivotal, giving the Blues a 17-7 halftime lead after a patchy first-half performance. Hooker Ricky Riccitelli scored six minutes into the second half to make it 24-7 to take the match away from the Waratahs.
Zarn Sullivan’s try in the left-hand corner in the 53rd minute extinguished any hope of a Waratahs comeback and an intercept try by winger Mark Telea in the 66th minute was the icing on the cake. It was Telea’s 12th try of the season, equaling the club record set by All Blacks winger Doug Howlett in 2003.
The Blues’ win prolonged a 27-year drought for Australian teams, who have never won a playoff match in New Zealand since Super Rugby began in 1996.
“We came out tonight wanting to get the (win) and I’m proud of the boys’ efforts,” Blues captain Dalton Papali’i said. “There’s still work to be done but we’re pretty happy with that performance.”
The Waratahs stung the Blues early with a try to lock Ned Hanigan. Blues center Rieko Ioane slapped back a kick by Barrett and the ball fell into the arms of Waratahs center Izaia Perese who broke away from confused defense. He linked on the 22 with Hanigan, who had the pace to score.
Hanigan was everywhere in the first half: he also threw an overhand pass to winger Dylan Pietsch who went close to scoring in the left-hand corner but lost the ball as he skidded over the line.
The Blues responded with a brilliant try to scrumhalf Finlay Christie in the 17th minute. Telea started the counter-attack inside the Blues 22, breaking tackles and freeing the ball which went wide to winger A.J. Lam. Lam broke on the outside, turning on his pace and eventually passing the ball back infield to Ioane, who passed to Christie to score.
A Barrett penalty separated the teams until Laulala surged over the line late after a series of pick-and-gos by the Auckland forwards.
The Blues disrupted the Waratahs lineout in the first half and won penalties from a superior scrum but held only a slim advantage overall. That edge became much greater in the second, where the Blues were dominant at the breakdown.
Papali’i combined with Hoskins Sotutu in an attack in the 45th minute which was thwarted near the line and in the next passage of play Riccitelli scored.
Sullivan dived low through the defense for his try and Telea anticipated a pass on the blindside for his late try.
Pietsch scored a consolation try in the 70th minute.
The match saw the last Super Rugby appearance of former Wallabies captain Michael Hooper who ended his Waratahs career after more than 170 matches.
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