Call it a Far North miracle but the Blues have come out firing in 2019 with a 43-10 thumping of the Chiefs in Kaikohe.
As the first of two preseason games, the Blues ran in seven tries against a despondent Chiefs outfit, making a strong statement just weeks away from round one of this year's Super Rugby competition.
Playing alongside the cheers of a well-attended Lindvart Park, the Blues trumped the visitors in nearly every facet of the game. The Auckland-based side clearly outstripped the Chiefs in attack and defence, which contributed to such a heavy defeat for the visitors.
Blues winger Caleb Clarke was electric down the left wing, scoring three tries in a game where both squads gave their younger recruits a taste of Super Rugby. Akira Ioane at No. 8 was a huge presence for the Blues who, as a team, stole over a dozen turnovers from the Waikato visitors.
Chiefs halfback Brad Weber showed some promise early in the game, along with first-five Jack Debreczeni, but without their eight All Blacks and the failures of regular performers such as fullback Shaun Stevenson, they were never in the game.
"We've been working on all aspects of the game, but to see the basics done well was the most pleasing," Blues head coach Leon MacDonald said.
"Tom Coventry has worked really hard with the forward pack around the set piece and I thought that it worked really well."
MacDonald credited assistant coach Tana Umaga for the Blues' defensive performance, in a game where the fitness of both squads was tested in uncomfortable, muggy conditions.
While their form with ball in hand was hard to fault, MacDonald acknowledged the team had a tough match-up against the Hurricanes in their second preseason game before they took on the Crusaders in round one of the formal competition.
"[The Hurricanes] are obviously a very strong team and they'll be tough for us, but as long as we keep moving forward with the same attitude, it'll be one to look forward to."
Chiefs head coach Colin Cooper said his side wasted most of their opportunities with ball in hand, and struggled to compete with the physicality of the Blues players.
"We had a lot of young guys out there trying it at this level, but I thought the Blues were more physical around the collision area which is something we need to work on."
While he would look at improving all aspects of his side's performance, Cooper said stringing phases together would be the focus in the days leading up to their preseason clash with the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.
Cooper remained optimistic about the Chiefs' position going into the season and was glad he was able to give his younger players an opportunity to play in what would have been a foreign area for most of his team.
"It's great for rugby to get into the regions and showcase what they are, so it's good for the Blues to have a game up here."
Local players Matt Matich, Ross Wright and Tom Robinson all received a great reception from the crowd as they returned to their respective team's benches for a rest. Robinson, a Kerikeri local, about a 20-minute drive from Kaikohe, said the game was a tiring encounter.
"We knew that it was going to be tiring, especially the first 20 minutes, but we just focused on going hard in that first period so things would open up for us and they did for the boys in the second half."
Robinson said he was happy to back playing in front of friends and family, but urged people not to read too much into the emphatic win.
"It's just preseason but it's nice to know that the work we've been putting in is paying off but as I said, we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves."
The Blues take on the Hurricanes on Saturday, February 9 at 3pm in Mangatainoka while the Chiefs will take on the Reds in Brisbane on Friday, February 8.
As it happened:
Fulltime: The Blues complete a resounding victory here at Lindvart Park in Kaikohe. Final score 43-10 over the Chiefs.
43-10 Blues Tanielu Tele'a caps off a great performance as the Blues run in another five-pointer.
38-10 Blues : Absolute madness under the sticks! The ball pinballs around and the referee has decided a Blues player has landed on top of it. The conversion is good.
31-10 Blues : What a great pass from the big Blues lock Evan Olmstead to free up Nanai on the right hand side and he goes over in the corner. Fresh on the park, Otere Black is unsuccessful with his conversion.
The try brings with it the end of the third quarter. With just 20 minutes to go, the Chiefs need to pull out something special to get back in this game.
26-10 Blues : A good turnover in the middle of the park almost turns into another opportunity for Clarke but the chip kick forward goes out of play. Chiefs line out on half way. That looks to be Clarke's day done. He walks off to a raucous applause. Electric play down the left from him today, bagging a hat-trick.
26-10 Blues : Clarke is in again with a bustling run! He crashes over the line and the try is converted.
19-10 Blues : Blues held up over the touchline! After a series of good grunt work from the forwards, they push over but can't get it down. They go back from a scrum five metres out.
19-10 Blues : Finally a bit of brilliance from Chiefs fullback Shaun Stevenson as he makes a break down the line. The Blues smother him well but hopefully that sparks the North Harbour boy into action. Unfortunately, it's followed by another costly knock on for the Chiefs in centre field. This is where they need to capitalise on the territory they've carved out but again that opportunity goes begging. Blues scrum on their 10 metre line.
Half-time: The Blues will be happy with their first half in Kaikohe. As always, preseason games are good to give new players are chance to cut their teeth at this level and they seem to be fitting in well. The old heads of Nanai and Ioane are leading the team well.
The Chiefs have played well in patches, halfback Weber looks very dangerous with ball in hand but that's just the thing, they haven't had a lot of ball to give their backline an opportunity to run at the Blues defence.
Blues lead 19-10
19-10 Blues Blues winger Caleb Clarke beats about four Chief defenders to score under the sticks. Plummer converts and the hosts extend their lead to 19-10 as we draw closer to half time.
12-10 Blues: The Blues hit back! After some good work at the line out, Parsons gets over for his side's second try. It's closer to the posts this time and Plummer adds the two extras and they take the lead 12-10.
The Blues are dominating this second 20 minute quarter. Akira Ioane is putting in a massive amount of work and forcing some key turnovers.
10-5 Chiefs The teams come back from the first quarter as Brad Weber breaks the line, flings it to Debreczeni who goes into the corner to score. The try goes unconverted.
5-5 End to end stuff with turnovers and breakaways galore. Right wing for the Blues Melani Nanai settles it down with a touch finder at halfway and both teams have a well deserved drink after some rapid rugby in very muggy conditions.
Well, it's been an entertaining encounter so far. The crowd will be happy they came out to see both sides have their first run for the season. Neither side looks polished by any means but the Blues backline seems especially potent down the left hand side. Left wing Clarke in conjunction with Perofeta have been making a nuisance of themselves for the chiefs defensive line.
5-5 The Chiefs hit right back! The Hamilton side stab a kick through to the 22 and Blues fullback Stephen Perofeta slips. Despite recovering to tackle the oncoming player, second five-eighth Orbyn Ledger goes over on the right-hand side. The conversion isn't made and it's all tied up at 5-5 with 15 minutes gone.
5-0 Blues Second-five eighth TJ Faiane goes over in the left hand corner after a busting run from No. 8 Akira Ioane. Plummer looks to add the extras from wide out but can't convert.
No score The Blues have had all the early play in the opening stages and are working hard to get over the Chiefs line. Early penalties have gone the Blues way but they're not looking to take the points, they want to crash over the line to give the Kaikohe faithful something to cheer about.
A tight match in this first 10 minutes. The Chiefs have put pressure back on the Blues after the home side came out of the gates early. First points will be crucial in this game.
3.00pm: After a friendly hit out in Waiuku last weekend, the Blues and Chiefs are set to do battle in Kaikohe, north of Auckland.
The match will see a number of new additions on each side take to the field. For the Chiefs, the likes of new winger Ataata Moeakiola will have the opportunity to shine, while for the Blues, eyes will be on local man Tom Robinson in the second row.
It's a great day in Kaikohe today and the scene is set for a great game of rugby.
People have been streaming through the gates here at Lindvart Park since midday today as Kaikohe gets its first taste of Super Rugby.
It should be a good stretch of the legs for both the Chiefs and the Blues. A lot of talk has come from the Blues camp about how they want to avenge past performances and compete in the latter stages of the competition. Today is a great opportunity to start the season on a winning note.
Kerikeri local Tom Robinson will want to put in a good performance in front of his home supporters along with other Northland boys Matt Matich, Matt Moulds, Josh Goodhue and Ross Wright.
The crowd waits with anticipation as the teams are about to be welcomed onto the field.
James Parsons leads the Blues out to a large round of applause from their home fans.
Blues: Alex Hodgman, James Parsons (c), Sione Mafileo, Josh Goodhue, Evan Olmstead, Tom Robinson, Matt Matich, Akira Ioane, Jonathan Ruru, Harry Plummer, Caleb Clarke, TJ Faiane, Levi Aumua, Melani Nanai, Stephen Perofeta. Reserves: Leni Apisai, Lua Li, Matt Moulds, Marcel Renata, James Tucker, Waimana Riedlinger-Kapa, Adrian Choat, Hoskins Sotutu, Jack Grooby, Brad McNaughton, Mark Telea, Tanielu Tele'a, Michael Collins, Tomas Aoake, Mike Tamoaieta, Otere Black.
Chiefs: Atu Moli, Liam Polwart, Sosefo Kautai, Laghlan McWhannell, Michael Allardice, Pita Gus Sowakula, Lachlan Boshier, Taleni Seu, Brad Weber, Jack Debreczeni, Tyler Campbell, Orbyn Leger, Tumua Manu, Ataata Moeakiola, Shaun Stevenson. Reserves: Samisoni Taukeiaho, Tevita Mafileo, Jeff Thwaites, Tyler Ardron, Mitchell Brown, Jack Stratton, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Alex Nankivell, Ross Wright, Tupou Vaai, Sekope Moli, Mitchell Jacobson, Jesse Parete, Bailyn Sullivan, Malo Tuitama.