The Blues rediscovered their attacking mojo with a rousing 35-24 victory over traditional rivals the Crusaders at Eden Park tonight.
A week after their disappointing opening round defeat to the Highlanders, Sir John Kirwan’s men found the spark they had been missing as they dazzled the 27,000 strong Eden Park crowd with four tries in the space of 15 minutes to stun the visitors.
Inspired by the young and exciting trio of Simon Hickey, Patrick Tuipulotu and Tevita Li, the home side overcame a 17-3 deficit to score 29 unanswered points either side of half time.
Much had been made of 20-year-old Hickey’s elevation to the starting XV to make his Super Rugby debut in such an important match, but the youngster handled the occasion with aplomb to guide his team around the field superbly.
After a slow start in Dunedin the Blues were determined to come out firing against the Crusaders at Eden Park and they ripped into their work from the start.
The home side were ferocious in defence as they drove the red and blacks backwards, forcing them into touch and turning the ball over in the tackle.
However the Blues were unable to turn their dominance into points as their lineout misfired on a number of occasions to let the visitors off the hook.
It took the Crusaders 12 minutes to make their way into the opposition’s half but unlike the Blues they seized their opportunities when it counted.
Hooker Corey Flynn was on the end of a slick set of hands and remarkably charged down the wing and outsprinted Piri Weepu to crash over in the corner after 14 minutes.
Tom Taylor and Simon Hickey traded penalties to bring the score to 10-3 midway through the first half, and despite the Blues showing some superb resilience in defence, Colin Slade eventually crossed from a five metre scrum following what looked to be obvious and deliberate obstruction.
However much to Blues captain Luke Braid’s protestations the try was awarded without even going to the television match official as the Crusaders suddenly found themselves in control at 17-3 up.
It was then that the Blues struck back in emphatic style.
After a quiet week last week, Frank Halai was back to his barnstorming best as he ran a great line from a Peter Saili offload and beat two players on his way to the try line.
Then came the moment of the match. From the re-start, athletic lock Patrick Tuipulotu climbed high into the air to claim the ball before charging over two defenders and offloading to Tevita Li.
The 18-year-old prodigy then beat three players including a fend on All Blacks captain Richie McCaw to race 40 metres and touch down in the corner, his gold tooth glistening under the Eden Park floodlights as his beaming smile lit up the stadium.
Trailing 15-17 at the break, the Blues started the second half how they ended the first as George Moala scored to give the Blues a 22-17 lead just two minutes in.
It was a defensive howler from the Crusaders that gifted the Blues a try as both Colin Slade and Reynold Lee-lo retreated to tidy up a deft Simon Hickey kick, but they ran into each other and George Moala retrieved the ball and barged his way over the try line.
Brimming with energy and confidence, the Blues looked unstoppable as they started to string some phases together, and when midfielder Jackson Willison pounced on a well weighted grubber kick from Piri Weepu to score the bonus point try, the Blues sailed out to a 29-17 lead.
The Blues were bolstered by All Black and Blues centurions Keven Mealamu and Tony Woodcock who came onto the field 50 minutes in, and their impact was just what the home side were looking for as they hoed into their work in tight. Hickey extended the Blues’ advantage to 30-17 after 54 minutes, but as they always do the Crusaders never gave up and they came back hard at the home side.
The Blues’ individual brilliance in attack was matched only by their desire and determination in defence as they absorbed a huge amount of pressure to withstand the Crusaders’ barrage.
Tevita Li looked to have raced the length of the field for an intercept try only to be controversially called back for being offside, and when Steven Luatua was sin binned for repeated infringements the Blues’ had their backs to the wall. It was tiresome stuff by the Blues who were desperately holding on, but they eventually cracked as Ryan Crotty crossed from a five metre attacking scrum following an Israel Dagg offload.
Ahead 32-24 with seven minutes remaining, veteran Keven Mealamu did a fantastic job of earning a penalty right in front as Hickey slotted the goal on fulltime to give the Blues a rousing 34-24 victory. The Blues now jump on a plane for a two week tour of South Africa.