Blues add more misery to Chiefs’ horror season
Defence wins it for the Auckland team, who send Chiefs to a record seventh defeat in a row
Wellington — The Blues got back on the winning path as they sent the Chiefs crashing to an unwanted record with a 21-17 victory in a defensively focused Super Rugby Aotearoa clash at Eden Park on Sunday.
The Blues produced a huge defensive effort on their goal line in the final five minutes to preserve a win that moved them to 17 points, two behind the table-topping Crusaders, who have a game in hand. The Crusaders suffered their first loss of the domestic competition on Saturday, when the Hurricanes beat them 34-32 in Christchurch.
Both the Blues and Chiefs were desperate heading into the match to arrest their slides, with the Blues having lost their last two games after winning the first three. The Chiefs were in even more dire straits, having lost their last six games across both Super Rugby and the domestic competition. Sunday’s defeat was a team record seventh in succession.
The home side, with Beauden Barrett in his preferred position of flyhalf, looked the most dangerous as they raced out to a 14-0 lead courtesy of converted tries to Matt Duffie and captain Patrick Tuipulotu.
The Chiefs, however, helped by a succession of penalties against the Blues, gradually began to build sustained pressure but were held out by a staunch defence and only had a try to Lachlan Boshier to show for all of their first-half endeavour.
Solomon Alaimalo tied the game up after he finished off a sweeping movement in which Brad Weber, Aaron Cruden and Anton Lienert-Brown combined beautifully for an attack down the blind side early in the second half.
Damian McKenzie gave the Chiefs the lead for the first time when he slotted a penalty three minutes later before Blues scrumhalf Finlay Christie grabbed the advantage back with the home side’s third try.
A possible broken wrist to Ngani Laumape soured the Hurricanes victory over the Crusaders, but his coach hinted it was indicative of the intensity of the competition. Laumape left the field in the 53rd minute of the Hurricanes victory, the first defeat for the Crusaders in Christchurch in more than four years.
It was just one of a series of injuries that all of New Zealand’s five teams have experienced in the domestic competition, something Hurricanes coach Jason Holland said was an issue.
“To be honest, we were battling during the week,” he said. “We spent the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday recovering this week from a big [Auckland] Blues game, so it needs some thinking about because we need our bodies right. We need to make sure the boys don’t have short careers.”
The Hurricanes suffered several late withdrawals before the game with prop Tyrel Lomax, flanker Vaea Fifita and lock Isaia Walker-Leawere all named in the match-day squad on Thursday but forced out before kickoff.
Prop Fraser Armstrong and centre Peter Umaga-Jensen were also injured during the game. Holland’s team have the next week off. The break would be welcome after games on four successive weekends, the coach said.
“There are a lot of battered bodies there and we’ll enjoy the few days off physically, but also mentally, and switch off. It’s important,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure that we come back with the same mentality and the same mindset around how we’re going to approach the last couple of weeks.”
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