The Blues slumped to their third successive defeat as they were overrun by the Chiefs 23-16 in a tense arm wrestle in Mount Maunganui tonight.
There is something about New Zealand derbies that seems to bring out the best in both teams, and tonight was no exception as the Blues and Chiefs threw everything at each another in a thrilling spectacle.
The Blues mixed enterprising attack with bone crunching defence and played with passion, commitment and great intensity, but they were guilty of committing too many handling errors and playing too much rugby in their own half as the defending champions suffocated them.
In the end it was just one fortuitous try that separated the two sides, but few other teams would have been able to match what the Blues threw at the Chiefs this evening.
Trailing 6-9 in a try-less first half, the Chiefs scored an early five pointer in the second half before Richard Kahui, who had a sublime game, charged down a kick and scored to give the home side some breathing room.
George Moala bagged a try three minutes from fulltime to narrow the gap, and a charged down drop goal attempt from Aaron Cruden gave Blues fans hope of snatching a draw, but it was too little too late as the Chiefs ran out deserved victors.
Steven Luatua was the pick of the bunch for the Blues as he constantly threatened with the ball in hand, while Angus Ta’avao put in a bone rattling hit on Lelia Masaga to show the Blues’ intent early.
Chiefs second five-eighths Bundee Aki was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle seven minutes in as he flipped Rene Ranger upside down, but the Blues were unable to make the hosts pay as Chris Noakes’ penalty kick bounced off the uprights.
Playing against his former franchise, Gareth Anscombe would surely have had a point to prove and he almost scored on two occasions only for the officials to deny him.
The Aucklander intercepted a loose inside pass and sprinted 40 metres to the try line but the touch judge had his flag raised for a foot in touch, while he also crossed a second time however the TMO pulled back play for an earlier ruck infringement.†
From the ensuing penalty, Noakes got the first points on the board with a penalty kick after 14 minutes, but Anscombe soon nullified it with a three pointer of his own.
In reality the Chiefs should really have asserted much more dominance on the scoreboard as they created a number of try scoring opportunities, only to spill the ball with the line begging or run into touch.
The Blues defended their line stoutly and continually kept trying to turn defence into attack as they sparked raids from deep inside their own half, but they were unable to break out as the Chiefs kept them pinned in their own territory and turned up the pressure.†
The only points the Chiefs had to show for their toil were two further Anscombe penalty kicks, but Noakes managed to peg back the deficit to 6-9 just before the halftime break.
The Chiefs continued their barrage in the second half and the Blues defence finally cracked as Ben Tameifuna crossed for the first try of the match after 47 minutes.
The platform was laid by a fit-again Richard Kahui who took a long ball from a lineout and bowled over Noakes to get the home side to within five metres of the line.
The Blues managed to hold them out, but from a five metre scrum the forwards rumbled towards the line and Tameifuna p crashed over from close range.
After helping set up a try, Kahui then created one for himself as he charged down Francis Saili’s clearing kick and regathered the ball to score.
Towards the end of the game the Blues started to play a lot more direct and found space around the fringes as they started to exert some pressure of their own.
That pressure finally told as George Moala crossed in the corner with three minutes remaining, but it was too little too late for the visitors as the Blues went down 23-16.
It is another short turnaround for the Blues who face the win-less Highlanders at Eden Park on Friday night.