Blues weather the storm

Blues weather the storm

The Blues weathered a physical barrage from the Stormers to record a tense 18-17 victory at North Harbour Stadium on Friday night.
The Stormers held the ball for countless phases in the dying stages of the game as they battered the Blues’ line to manoeuvre themselves into a position for the drop goal, but replacement first five Elton Jantjies shanked his attempt as the Blues held on for a fantastic win.
The match might not have featured the thrilling running rugby Blues fans have become accustomed to enjoying this season, but what the 16,111 crowd that braved the Friday afternoon traffic were treated to was a performance filled with sheer commitment and passion.
The Blues simply tackled their hearts out.
Up against a monster Stormers forward pack and hard running backline, the Blues’ character on display for all to see as they hoed into their opposition time and time again.
After suffering a heart breaking 12-11 defeat to the Reds last week, the Blues weren’t about to let another close game slip from their grasp.
Chris Noakes scored all the Blues’ points, slotting six penalties from seven attempts in an impressive, well rounded performance by the first five-eighths.
Noakes’ radar was working well early on as he slotted two 40 metre penalty kicks to give the Blues a 6-0 lead after 17 minutes.
With drizzle falling on North Harbour Stadium prior to the game, the field was covered in a thin slick of rain which caused some real trouble for the players under foot.
When Francis Saili slipped trying to tackle Jean de Villiers, Rene Ranger was forced to pull off a fantastic try saving tackle on Gio Aplon and Andries Bekker also came to within inches of scoring, only for the TMO to deny him.
Instead the Stormers were awarded a penalty and Joe Pietersen slotted a shot at goal to narrow the deficit to 6-3 after 24 minutes.
Keven Mealamu made his first start of the season after an extended break, but it was short lived as he lasted less than half an hour with a calf injury, replaced by Quentin MacDonald who had an outstanding game.
After Noakes slotted three consecutive penalty kicks to give the Blues a handsome 15-3 lead, MacDonald looked to have scored a superb try from a set piece move from the lineout, but he lost the ball forward with the try line begging.
The visitors stormed back into contention in the final quarter of the game on the back of outstanding captain and second five-eighths Jean De Villiers.
His midfield partner Juan de Jongh ran a great line to cut through the Blues’ defence, before the ball was recycled and found its way to De Villiers who had too much power and strength close to the line to crash over the whitewash.
Noakes managed to extend the lead seven minutes from full time with another three pointer, but a second try to De Villiers, this time a fantastic solo effort, saw the Stormers close the match up to just a point with only minutes remaining.
With the sound of the fulltime siren reverberating around North Harbour Stadium, the Stormers had possession of the ball and patiently worked through more than 20 phases as they tried desperately to force the Blues into conceding a penalty.
But as the ball was passed back to Jantjies for the drop goal, he didn’t connect with it cleanly as it sprayed wide, much to the jubilation of the crowd.
The Blues have the weekend off before regrouping to prepare for the Rebels at Eden Park on Saturday night.