Rugby: Perfect start for JK's new-look Blues side


Hold on, that wasn't meant to happen.

Sir John Kirwan's Blues provided the first major upset of the Super Rugby season as they toppled an unimpressive Hurricanes outfit 34-20 at Westpac Stadium.

During Saturday's match, Northland's Rene Ranger celebrated his 50th Super Rugby cap with a bumping try which left Hurricanes' skipper Conrad Smith out cold.

Ranger's 70th minute try, which put the Blues in front, came from 5m out where he shrugged Smith off who collapsed on the ground before leaving for a compulsory concussion assessment, which he failed.

Mark Hammett's Hurricanes made life difficult for themselves throughout the contest as they fell off tackles, dropped the ball numerous times and generally played with a lack of cohesion.

Considering the Hurricanes had the lowest player turnover of any New Zealand franchise heading in to this season it seemed unfathomable that they could have such little continuity.

Much of the pre-season mail about the Blues suggested they would play a physical style of game and they didn't disappoint and when Frank Halai crossed for his second try of the game in the 76th minute it capped a dream start to the job for Kirwan.

It was also a nice moment for Halai who was controversially sent to the sin bin mid-way through the second half for batting the ball back over the dead ball line as he and Julian Savea raced to force the pill first.

Halai's indiscretion gave the Hurricanes a penalty try and a 20-16 lead with just over 20 minutes to play but the Blues showed the sort of character Kirwan would have been proud of to claw their way back in to the game.

The opening 40 minutes was indicative of early season rugby as both sides dropped the ball at regular intervals as the players battled to get out of first gear.

The Blues started with their expected youthful exuberance and caught the Hurricanes by surprise with their direct running through the midfield, while loose forwards Steven Luatua and Peter Saili carried the ball with authority.

After both sides exchanged early penalty goals wing Halai ensured the Blues were the first team to cross the chalk when he crashed over in the 21st minute following some smart work from George Moala and Ranger.

Hurricanes wing Savea wasn't to be upstaged though and he helped the home side answer back only minutes later when he finished off a sweeping move in the corner.

Beauden Barrett's sideline conversion gave the Hurricanes some breathing space but a second penalty goal from Piri Weepu, who was playing his 100th Super Rugby game, ensured the Blues went in to the half-time break down by only two points.

During the start of the second spell the Hurricanes barely got their hands on the ball for the opening 10 minutes and during that period the momentum began to swing to the visitors.

It's a long competition and one performance doesn't make a team but Kirwan's Blues showed they will push sides who underestimate them this year, while the Hurricanes have plenty of work to do.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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