Rugby: Blues scramble to bonus-point win

Blues 29
Cheetahs 22

Isaia Toeava of the Blues fends off Sarel Pretorius of the Cheetahs. Photo / Getty Images
Isaia Toeava of the Blues fends off Sarel Pretorius of the Cheetahs. Photo / Getty Images

The Blues closed the gap on New Zealand Super rugby conference front runners Crusaders to one point after they prevailed 29-22 over a gutsy Cheetahs side at Whangarei today.

The Blues picked up a bonus point after scoring four tries to three in a dour struggle in which they were forced to rely on well-executed counters during broken play to score points.

The result saw the Blues move to 25 points while the Crusaders go to 26 while enjoying a bye this round.

SUPER 15 STANDINGS

From the outset, the Blues were unable to break through a tough Cheetahs defence which time and again denied them space and time to craft effective moves.

Impressive No 8 Peter Saili was denied a try in the fifth minute when his foot cut the chalk in the scoring zone, pushed out by Cheetahs halfback Sarel Pretorius and flanker Kabamba Floors.

Two bursts, first by fullback Isai Toeava and then first five-eighth Stephen Brett went to waste after the Blues failed to control the ball.

The deadlock was finally broken when Brett glided into space after a Cheetahs move broke down and his offload found winger Joe Rokocoko who dotted down for Luke McAlister to convert.

A second counter started by skipper and hooker Keven Mealamu was rewarded with a try to Brett with McAlister featuring prominently in the move.

A penalty on the stroke of halftime by No 10 Sias Ebersohn saw the Cheetahs close the gap to 14-3.

Another booming run by Saili at the start of the second half almost set up an early second half try for the Blues but flanker Luke Braid had the ball knocked loose as he lunged for the line.

The Blues, however began to punch holes in a tiring Cheetahs defence more regularly after McAlister kicked a penalty to stretch the lead out to 17-3.

Saili deservedly scored after Braid and Benson Stanley, in for a concussed Jared Payne at centre combined to open up the defence.

The effervescent Pretorious sparked a Cheetahs fight back when he finished off a sweeping move upfield after Rokocoko and Rene Ranger contrived to collide and loose the ball while the Blues were hot on attack.

From the kickoff, the Cheetahs had the Blues under immense pressure close to the line and Pretorius grabbed his second try after a couple of scrums.

The Blues replied with an unconverted try by Toeava who fended off two tackles after sprinting around the forwards at the ruck which put the score to out to 29-15 with six minutes to go and the Cheetahs closed the game out with a try to prop Coenie Oosthuizen.

Blues 29 (Stephen Brett, Joe Rokocoko, Peter Saili, Isaia Toeava tries Luke McAlister 3 cons pen) bt Cheetahs 22 (Sarel Pretorius 2, Coenraad Oosthuizen tries Naas Olivier 2 cons Sias Ebersohn pen) at Northland Rugby Stadium. Referee: Bryce Lawrence.

- NZPA

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