Rugby: Blues hold on for gritty win

By Wynne Gray, Chris

Steven Luatua of the Blues charges into Andries Bekker of the Stormers during the round 12 Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Stormers. Photo / Getty Images.
Steven Luatua of the Blues charges into Andries Bekker of the Stormers during the round 12 Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Stormers. Photo / Getty Images.

Blues 18
Stormers 17

Bravery came in buckets tonight for the Blues.

This was a night when the Blues ran into the sort of physical blitz they have rarely felt this season. But they would not be denied.

They were shut out by a point a week ago against the Reds but last night claimed victory by that same gorgeous margin.

The inquisition was relentlessly crunchy. Waves of Stormers attacked the Blues in close, punching their way past the defensive line to build momentum or spreading the ball where they also found some space.

That pounding took its toll but the Blues were intense as their weary bodies responded with the venom their minds urged.

The sort of trench warfare the Stormers brought, battered the Blues for long periods.
Six days ago they were involved in a similar slugging match with the Reds and the coaching staff deliberately lightened the physical load on their squad during the week.

It was just as well. Andries Bekker and his pack brought a powerful array of driving surges to complement the weight of possession they were able to collect in the first half of this match at North Harbour Stadium.

The Blues held them out just, with the benefit of one superb, but high, cover tackle from Rene Ranger on Gio Aplon which saved a try and then a combined tackle on Bekker.

TMO Vinny Munro was asked for his verdict on the lock's lunge at the line and judged Bekker had ground the ball short.

Around those difficult moments, the Blues had rare ventures into the Stormers territory. But on those sparse occasions, the Stormers made mistakes or were forced into conceding penalties.

Three times Chris Noakes was asked to shoot for goal from around the 40m mark and he split the posts with each attempt.

The side's courage and Noakes kicking gave the Blues an unlikely 9-3 lead at the interval.
Questions were whether they could find the same courage to last another torrid half, reverse the possession numbers or find another way of blunting the Stormers' rhythm.

All the pre-match numbers suggested this would be a close match, a battle of wills with both teams having defensive records others would be proud of.

Throughout the match, the Blues defensive boss Graham Henry could be heard barking at his men to get off the line, chase, nail a turnover or get up and make another hit.

The Blues had not conceded a try in the last two games against the Reds and Hurricanes or in the final quarter of their previous match with the Highlanders.

That impressive effort continued throughout the opening spell last night as the young side showed all the mental strength they lacked last year.

However they lost hooker Keven Mealamu after 23 minutes when he damaged his calf and had to be replaced by Quentin MacDonald.

The Stormers responded to their frustration at the interval when they introduced lock Eben Etzebeth to increase the size in their pack.

But size does not always count and when Bekker tackled Francis Saili high, Noakes slapped over another penalty kick.

It was another notch of confidence and even when the superb Steven Luatua went down with an ankle sprain, the Blues did not lose their focus.

They were on a mission. Victory might be a mirage but they were not going to yield. They clambered into more rucks and when the Stormers left their feet, referee Jackson found another penalty, Noakes delivered again.

MacDonald was pushed out in the corner from an elaborate lineout deception before an attacking Stormers driving maul was repelled.

They were heart in the mouth moments as the scoreboard clock and the 16,111 crowd counted through the crises.

Visiting skipper Jean de Villiers eventually ploughed over with 15 minutes left. Then the heat really went on. There was a scuffle or two as the pressure rose another notch.

Noakes missed his first kick but soon had another and the Blues knew the visitors had to score twice to take the match.

De Villiers obliged with a try then he shrugged off Francis Saili's tackle and the conversion had the visitors a solitary point shy of their hosts.

Blues (Chris Noakes 6 pen)
Stormers (Jean de Villiers 2 tries; Joe Pietersen 2 con, pen)
Halftime: 9-3

- NZ Herald

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