The Blues made all the play but they couldn’t exert their dominance on the scoreboard as they were edged by the Queensland Reds 11-12 in a thrilling encounter in Brisbane on Friday night.
Leading 11-9 at halftime after scoring the only try of the match, the Blues dominated all facets of the game but a Quade Cooper penalty goal with five minutes remaining snatched victory from the visitors’ grasp.
Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan called it a Test match week leading into tonight’s clash with the Reds and the game certainly lived up to that billing.
Everything was against the Blues. They were away from home at the fortress of Suncorp Stadium, they were coming off the bye which has been notoriously difficult for New Zealand teams and they were playing against a superb Reds outfit that had already beaten three other New Zealand teams this season.
Off field distractions with player indiscretions had also played their part, but none of those factors seemed to affect the Blues at all as they produced one of their finest performances of the season.
Their defence was once again utterly resolute. The Blues have now gone 177 minutes without conceding a try and against the Reds they held firm despite a number of attacking barrages.
Seldom has a team exerted as much dominance at the breakdown as the Blues did tonight.†
Coming up against a Reds outfit renowned for their pilfering of the ball, the Blues simply blew the opposition away at ruck time with Rene Ranger, Luke Braid and Piri Weepu in particular wreaking havoc to create turnovers.
Their attack was enterprising. From the opening whistle the Blues refused to relinquish control of the ball as they spun it wide, held onto it and stretched the Reds’ defence with superb interplay between the backs and forwards.
Indeed from the opening whistle they held the ball for more than 20 phases as they patiently worked their way downfield, setting the tone for the rest of the match.
Yet despite such great play, the Blues found themselves behind in the one area of the game that counts ñ the scoreboard.
Penalty goals consumed the majority of the first half hour, including a superb 50m kick by Albert Nikoro, before Jackson Willison scored the first try of the game.
It was a great build up from the Blues as they patiently crept towards the Reds’ tryline, before Chris Noakes fired out a pass to Willison who managed to get on the outside of Jonno Lance and dive over for the try.
Leading by 11-9 at the break, the Blues continued to control the wealth of possession and territory in the second half as Ranger and Luatua made prominent runs, but they couldn’t turn that dominance into points as they left the door open for the Reds to come back into the match.
Cooper missed the opportunity to put the Reds in front with a penalty kick after 52 minutes, but he made sure he landed the final attempt five minutes from fulltime to give the Reds a slender 12-11 lead.
The Blues still had the chance to strike back in the closing stages of the game, but a number of uncharacteristic errors at crucial times gave the ball back to the Reds as they held on to secure victory.
The Blues return home on Saturday and play the Stormers on Friday May 3 at North Harbour Stadium.