Rugby: Blues seize their chance (+photos)

By Wynne Gray


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It went to the wire. What it means by tomorrow morning is Nostradamus territory but for now New Zealand has three teams in the Super 14 playoffs.

In a game of enormous tension, continual drama and high stakes, Hurricanes five-eighths Willie Ripia speared three dropped goals wide of his target inside the last two minutes. Those misses allowed the Blues to hang on for the victory and a sniff of the playoffs - something which seemed out of their reach when they lost to the series leaders the Crusaders four rounds ago.

But a massive crowd of 37,352 at Eden Park last night watched the hosts claim a courageous victory - a result which could also lead to both the Blues and Hurricanes missing the playoffs if other results go against them during the rest of the weekend.

It was a cautious Blues side for most of the match, preferring to kick the ball out of their half while the Hurricanes attacked.

Midfielder Ma'a Nonu was sent into space early but his pass bounced out of skipper Rodney So'oialo's grasp with the Blues defence in trouble.

When Jerry Collins threw a sloppy pass to Hosea Gear, the move looked to have foundered but the Hurricanes right wing, wheeled back to retrieve the ball and launched himself across the tryline with an extravagant dive.

He had beaten six Blues players in an arcing run before straightening down fat man's alley as the bemused Blues defenders watched him run by.

Worse was to come when Nick Evans' restart did not go 10 metres. He compounded his error when his subsequent casual clearing kick was charged down by Gear for an easier try than the first.

The game was starting slip away from the Blues by the end of the first period and some decent reposte was needed. It came from lock Anthony Boric who had been the Blues lineout target for much of the spell and also filched several Hurricanes throws.

This time he chimed into the middle of the backline to fend off Piri Weepu and barge across for a try and Evans conversion. The difference was cut to four but the Hurricanes pressure told when Nick Williams was sinbinned for repeated professional fouls.

A backslamming double tackle by Tim Fairbrother and Collins on Jerome Kaino appeared as though it would have similar consequences but referee Bryce Lawrence and his assistant only warned the assailants.

Mysteriously the officials then combined to sinbin Tamati Ellison for impeding David Smith's kick and chase.

Whatever the merits of those decisions, Evans' third penalty allowed the Blues to sneak within a point of the visitors at the break. The Blues adhered strictly to their instructions and had only used the ball through their backs when past halfway.

They continued with those tactics after the break when they were helped by a sloppy Zac Guildford clearance in his 22 and created a huge overlap on the right.

The ball was spread slowly to Smith who jinked inside one tackler but was smothered and in the judgment of the TMO, did not score the try. Kaino then barged at the line, but the TMO again ruled that he did not score. Another surge by the pack was held up beyond the whitewash.

The Hurricanes' conceded another penalty to Evans before Williams threw a sloppy pass which was intercepted by Ripia and Nonu was run down after a 65m chase from the Blues.

- NZ Herald

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