Rugby: North fans savour super win

By Cameron Leslie

Northland's rugby faithful have been given the stamp of approval by Northland's rugby headquarters and crowd favourite Rene Ranger.

Around 4000 turned out to support Ranger and his teammates in their match against the Waratahs, with Ranger adding the rarity of the event was something to be savoured.

"It's good to get the fans up north to come support the Blues," Ranger said after Saturday's Super Rugby win. "You know, we don't get many games up here, so when we're here it's good to make it count."

Ranger's thoughts were echoed by Northland Rugby chief executive officer Jeremy Parkinson who said official crowd numbers wouldn't be known until this afternoon.

"We're hopeful we'll break even," said Parkinson. "Initial thoughts [of crowd numbers] are on or around 4000, which is down on last year but we're happy."

Parkinson said it was a strong turn-out considering the Blues line-up didn't feature many star players or All Blacks.

In terms of the Blues performance, Ranger said it was good enough for him.

"We tried to work on our set piece and get our execution right," Ranger said in between passersby wishing him luck in 2013. "I think our set piece struggled a little in the first half but in the second the boys picked it up.

"A lot of the boys got excited and showed a bit of character to pull off that win at the end there."

After losing 41-35 to the Reds in Toowoomba last weekend, Sir John Kirwan's side continued their pre-season preparations with another high-scoring affair.

New captain Ali Williams also made a solid start in his first action of the year, contributing some big hits in defence before being substituted at the break.

Ranger always threatened with ball in hand and created several try-scoring opportunities, while Culum Retallick, George Moala and Chris Noakes all returned to action following injuries.

"I was really happy with their courage and commitment today," Kirwan said. "We did some really good things. We hung in there and never gave up so they're all things that you can be proud of."

After taking a 12-7 halftime lead through tries to young winger Lolagi Visinia and Peter Saili, code-hopper Israel Folau's introduction to the game had an immediate impact as he set up two tries and crossed himself with a sensational solo effort.

After Blues prop Tim Perry dotted down, Waisake Naholo notched two tries to put the Blues ahead before a late Waratahs' try to put them in front with just minutes left on the clock.

But Saili bashed his way over from close range to clinch the win after the siren to send the locals home on a high.

The Blues will complete their pre-season preparations against the Highlanders in Queenstown on Friday.

Scorers

Blues 40 (Saili 2, Naholo 2, Visinia, Perry tries; Nikoro con, Kerr 4 con) Waratahs 36 (Kingston 3, Crawford, Holloway, Folau tries; McKibbin con, Foley con, Lucas con). HT: 12-7.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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