At Leichhardt Oval, Sydney: Blues 20 (Cameron Suafoa tries 66min, Luke Romano tries 74min; Jock McKenzie pen, ripoff; Zarn Sullivan dg, ripoff), wars 17 (Mark Nawaqanitawase 2 attempts 51min, 56min; Taine Edmed pen, 2 cons). HT: 3-0.
Yellow cards: Adrian Choat (Blues) 28min, Akira Ioane (Blues) 29min.
The ‘baby’ Blues did just that, shocking the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday night with an 80th-minute lost goal from Zarn Sullivan to close the curtain on an unprecedentedly excellent Super Rugby Pacific regular season.
The mostly second-row Blues team rallied from a 14-3 second-half deficit to trail the Waratahs with a terrific late try from captain Luke Romano and then Sullivan’s nerveless droppie in death. as they extended their winning streak to a record 13. games on the rebound. That tops the 12 achieved by the 1997 champions.
It was a sometimes heroic effort from Aucklanders as nearly all of their heavyweights stayed behind in Auckland to prepare for next Saturday’s quarter-final at Eden Park. Coach Leon MacDonald had that luxury as his team, which finished the round-robin 13-1 and up six points, had already secured first place.
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But the subs, the seconds, call them what you will, made him enormously proud, as they survived 10 first-half minutes with 13 men, and then that 11-point deficit at the three-quarter mark to pull off a standout. victory.
Romano was magnificent with his leadership, commitment and physicality, ending the match with blood running down his face, but with a broad smile. His attempt, five minutes from time, was vital as he charged to end a 16-stage buildup. The away scrum was also dominant, Corey Evans’ 14 tackles leading a valiant defensive effort and Sullivan’s ability to execute when it mattered a deciding factor.
The Blues Babies, as they had been nicknamed, cast a splendid first spell, overcoming a torrid arm wrestling match and losing two players to the bin in quick succession, to blast their way to a 3-0 halftime lead. . . Yes, 3-0. This was like a throwback to the 50s or 60s.
But it was a worthwhile effort, all things considered. Substitutes could have easily been retired when they lost loose strikers Adrian Choat and Akira Ioane to yellow cards (for high kicks) in quick succession around the 28-minute mark.
But the Blues battened the hatches down superbly, surviving a key scrum near their line when they earned a penalty with a six-man pack, then secured their only points when they were again rewarded at set pieces for their supremacy.
The Kiwis spent much of the half under pressure and hanging on for dear life, but their defense was up to the challenge and they were helped by some basic management errors from the home team at crucial moments.
The home team seemed to have taken control during the third quarter when flanker Mark Nawaqanitawase crossed twice in quick succession to lead the ‘Tahs within 14-3, only for the Blues to finish with the proverbial wet sail: the replacement block. Cameron Suafoa and Romano storming for the 17-14 lead.
There was time for local kicker Taine Edmed to equalize, and enough for Sullivan to step up and emulate Beauden Barrett’s winning exploits seven days earlier.
How about the 29th-minute scrum when the Blues six-man pack won a penalty over with Choat and Ioane in the bin? You could see the team pick themselves up, and that took them to a plus-3 lead while they were down to 13 men.
Match Rating: 7/10
After a rather acrimonious first half, the contest came to life in the second and we even managed another acrimonious ending. Too many bugs and misfires to be a classic, but ultimately entertaining for the big crowd.
With the Blues choosing to essentially field their second XV, to keep the troops fresh for Saturday’s quarter-finals, there was little about it for the visitors, save the opportunity to give the backup squad some valuable minutes. The ‘Tahs had more to play for, but still couldn’t get a confidence booster ahead of a tough quarter-final visit to Hamilton.
most valuable Player
Not much high-end quality on display in this one, but look no further than the old Roman dog wishing on his men for the outcome. Turns out it’s not a bad truck.