Blues book semi-final berth
June 24, 2011
The Blues' Lachie Munro crosses for a try
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The Blues booked their place in the Super Rugby semi-finals with a 26-13 victory over the Waratahs in the qualifier clash at Eden Park in Auckland.
Tries from winger Lachie Munro, who finished with 16 points, and lock Ali Williams propelled the home side into the final four for the first time since 2007 with a clash against the Reds or the Stormers awaiting them depending on the result of Saturday's second qualifier between the Crusaders and the Sharks.
The injury-ravaged Waratahs held their own with a first half try from centre Tom Carter but they ran out of steam and a late try from fullback Lachie Turner proved to be no more than a consolation.
Some early lineout woes for the Waratahs handed the Blues a great field position but the hosts were were frustrated by their own errors and some impressive defensive work from their rivals. The ball saw plenty of air in the opening exchanges with both sides keen to leverage the wet conditions but Blues fullback Jared Payne saw a clearance charged down by Waratahs flanker Phil Waugh. The result was an attacking lineout five metres out but the Tahs could only spill the ball in contact as they closed in on the line.
Defence continued to dominate with the Blues raising their game in the face of a Tahs side growing in confidence. But the Australian side finally forced an opening midway through the half with the Blues guilty of falling off tackles. Centre Ryan Cross cut a good line into the 22 before off loading to Carter who shrugged off the cover defence on his way to scoring in the corner with a little help from winger Sosene Anesi. Beale could not land the extras but the warning signs were there for the hosts.
The Blues finally hit their straps a few moments later with a chip ahead from centre Luke McAlister pounced upon by winger Joe Rokocoko who powered up the touchline before feeding Payne who injected further pace before being hauled down superbly by Beale. Play was called back for a forward pass but the Blues were soon knocking on the door again with fly-half Stephen Brett, Payne and McAlister involved again as the opening was created for Munro to cross in the corner. The Blues winger caught a knee from Waugh as he touched down and it was left to McAlister to slot the extras and give his side the lead.
The Waratahs rallied well with the dancing feet of Beale drawing a penalty from Blues No.8 Peter Saili and the Wallabies international stepped up to land the kick the kick and reclaim the lead. The missed tackles continued to rack up against the Blues but they rode their luck and a penalty against Carter on his own 22 after a clever chip through from scrum-half Alby Mathewson saw the lead change hands again - with Munro hitting the target this time.
But the Blues wanted more with some excellent work from Brett in midfield sparking the next raid. He stripped the ball from Tahs flanker Dean Mumm before the Blues combined to make a hash of the opportunity but a penalty allowed Munro to double his tally and take his side out to a five point lead.
The difficult playing conditions continued to blight the game after the re-start but impressive Williams gave the Blues some momentum with a strong run that had the Waratahs stretched. The Blues turned the screw at the next scrum and when the Tahs were penalised for dragging down the maul, skipper Keven Mealamu wasted no time in pointing to the posts - but the angle was too much for Munro.
The Tahs' hopes took another blow with a nasty looking injury to lock Kane Douglas and his second row partner Sitaleki Timani was soon down following a collision with winger Atieli Pakalani. And as they licked their wounds, Munro slotted another penalty as reward for his side's second half dominance.
Munro's boot heaped woe on the Tahs with a great touch-finder in the corner on the hour mark and although the Tahs' lineout stood up to the latest test they were soon stretched again with Rokocoko almost escaping down the touchline following a slick pass from Brett. The visitors' defence continued to creak and the inevitable score finally came with good hands from prop John Afoa and Payne creating the opening for Williams who delighted in powering over from close range. Munro nailed the conversion to take the Blues beyond two converted scores.
Pakalani threatened to make things interesting with a superb burst of pace up the middle as the game entered the final ten minutes but handling errors returned to haunt them. Undeterred they re-grouped with Mumm and Beale making big gains into the Blues' 22 before the ball was worked wide to Turner who crossed for a score but the conversion from out wide was too much for his No.10 leaving them 10 points in arrears.
The Blues looked to close the game out with a long-range penalty with the clock running down and McAlister came up trumps with an excellent kick to seal his side's place in next weekend's final four.
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