The Blues’ poor away record continued as they slumped to a 32-20 defeat to defending champions the Chiefs at Yarrow Stadium in New Plymouth on Friday night.
In a bruising encounter, the Blues put in a mighty effort but the Chiefs were just too tenacious at the breakdown as they disrupted the visitors’ ball and never gave their talented backline any opportunity to attack on the front foot.
The Chiefs did what they do so well ñ it wasn’t pretty but they showed character to grind out a much deserved win to consolidate their spot at the top of the New Zealand conference and condemn the Blues to the bottom of the log with the bye coming up next week.
It all started so promisingly for Sir John Kirwan’s men as superbly directed kicks by Simon Hickey and Ma’a Nonu put the visitors deep into Chiefs territory.
After setting up three tries for the Blues last week, Nonu was once again influential in creating the first try of the night, running hard at the line and beating a defender before offloading to Lolagi Visinia who did wonderfully to juggle the ball before crashing over in the corner.
However Nonu’s superb form up until now seemed to escape him†as it was his blunder at the other end that opened the door for the Chiefs to hit back almost immediately.
He failed to take a catch inside his 22 and clear the ball to touch, and instead as Hickey pounced on the loose ball he knocked it on ñ handing the ball to the home side.
Gareth Anscombe made a half break before the ball was sent back to the blindside as monstrous prop Ben Tameifuna barged his way over the try line to score.
Then came the most crucial blow for the Blues. When Charles Piutau went down clutching at his knee in what is believed to be a medial ligament injury, the Chiefs pounced.
With a one man advantage as Piutau sought treatment from the medical team, the Chiefs passed the ball through the hands as Dwayne Sweeney charged down the wing before sucking in two defenders and offloading to livewire Tim Nanai Williams who scored.
Piutau was forced from the field and despite a strong performance from Visinia who filled in at fullback and Pita Ahki who came into the midfield, the Blues desperately missed the spark of Piutau who has been their star performer all season.
Anscombe and Hickey traded penalties to bring the scores to 20-13 at halftime with the Blues still well in the hunt, but Tameifuna once again found the try line just four minutes into the second stanza to extend the Chiefs’ lead.
Tom Marshall then added to the Blues’ woes with another try following a superb run by Nanai-Williams to give the Chiefs the bonus point try.
George Moala finished off some solid work by the forwards to go over in the corner with 15 minutes remaining, and replacement Ihaia West slotted a great conversion from the sideline, but the Blues couldn’t get any closer as the Chiefs ran out 32-20 victors.