Herald on Sunday
Blues experience the joy of reaching their first Super Rugby final in 18 years
For the first time since 2003, the Blues will contest a Super Rugby final, and after their strong transtasman campaign, they have earned the right to host it last night in Auckland.
They will host the resurgent Highlanders after they hung on to second place when the Crusaders couldn’t amass a big enough win against the Rebels in Sydney.
In the end, little more than three tries across the competition separated the Blues, Highlanders and Crusaders who all finished on 23 points with the Blues having a differential of 119, the Highlanders 103 and the Crusaders 97.
The Blues ensured they finished the season at the top of the table, beating the Western Force 31-21 at Eden Park last night.
After the Highlanders and Crusaders both won earlier in the weekend, the equation was simple for the Blues. As long as they won, they would be hosting the final.
It wasn’t their best performance of the season, all but three of their points coming in the first half, but it was enough to get the job done.
“Forty minutes is never good enough,” Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said after the match.
“You’re always striving for the perfect 80, or 80 plus.
“It’s quite disappointing for us to finish like that but we can’t dwell on it too much — we have to look forward to next week and be grateful we have another week together.
“We’d love to have a full Eden Park for a final that we haven’t had for a while. I know a lot of us are striving for success here, and this is a step in the right direction.”
The Blues took some time to find their way in the match. Both sides needed something of a feeling out period, with neither able to control the possession for long periods of time in the early exchanges.
It took a barnstorming run from Hoskins Sotutu to bring life to the Blues, with the No 8 making a strong charge to find himself in clear space, before sprinting away from the chasing defenders to score the game’s opening try.
It was the only opportunity to Blues took inside the opening 25 minutes of play, and it seemed as though the Auckland faithful would be in for a rather nervous watch.
However, a 28th minute try to winger Mark Telea seemed to spark the Blues. They then ran in two more tries before the end of the half through Sotutu and flanker Dalton Papalii to lead 28-0 at the break.
While it was an impressive period of play, flanker Tom Robinson was forced from the field due to a head knock. He failed to pass his head injury assessment and was out for the rest of the match.
From the way the first half ended, it seemed the Blues were well poised to go on with the job, but they seemed to play as if the job was already done. The Force, scoring tries through hooker Feleti Kaitu’u, midfielder Tevita Kuridrani and fullback Rob Kearney, outscored the Blues 21-3 in the second period of play.
As the Forced fired up, the Blues smartly took a gift penalty midway through the half to give themselves enough of a buffer to ensure the win.
● Winger Sean Wainui scored five tries, a Super Rugby record, as the Chiefs beat the Waratahs 40-7 in a dead rubber match at Brookvale Oval in Sydney last night.
Blues 31 (Hoskins Sotutu 2, Mark Telea, Dalton Papalii tries; Otere Black 4 cons, pen) Force 21 (Feleti Kaitu’u, Tevita Kuridrani, Rob Kearney tries; Ian Prior 3 cons) HT: 28-0.