Blues beat Rebels in 11-try thriller
May 11, 2013
Frank Halai enjoyed a big game with three tries
© Getty Images
The Blues defeated Melbourne Rebels but not before they threatened to blow a 19-point half-time lead in Super Rugby round 13 at Eden Park in Auckland.
The Blues cut loose in the first half, with powerful wing Frank Halai taking his chances whenever they were created on the flanks to score three tries as the hosts claimed a four-try bonus point by the 25th minute. Bt they lost their intensity in the second period and the Rebels threatened to make them pay. The Rebels absorbed some half-time rockets from the coaching staff and produced a much tighter game with significant rewards in the second half, clawing their way back to 29-25 with 15 minutes to play, when they seemed to have the momentum to claim a victory. But, with 10 minutes to play, replacement flanker Luke Braid sparked the Blues with a valuable run, supported by replacement half-back Jamison Gibson-Park, and they provided Rene Ranger a chance to open up the Rebels to secure a converted try and a defining 11-point buffer.
Rebels half-back Nick Phipps was key to the Rebels' improvement in the second half, while skipper Scott Higginbotham was constantly looking to impose himself and flanker Scott Fuglistaller enjoyed a competitive night in the loose.
Blues captain Ali Williams described his team's performance as "ugly", but he was unable to explain what happened after the break. "I put it down to mental to be honest," he said. "I can't finger point it otherwise we'd have fixed it out there. That was ugly. First 20 minutes we played what we know how to play then individuals probably led by me played like shit. You've got to learn from these things, though. We're lucky to get away with it. It's just keeping to our system, and mentally getting up week in, week out. Today we learned a valuable lesson that we can't just rest and cruise through things."
Higginbotham lamented that the Rebels "keep letting teams in with easy tries". He said: "We're going closer and closer every week; I thought we were going to get there in the end, but unfortunately that wasn't the case. We played some great, attacking football. A couple of minor errors in defence, and we'll fix that and then we'll be a side that will be tough to beat."
The Blues opened the scoring when they created space on the left flank, where second five-eighth Francis Saili made ground along the sideline, setting up play infield; the ball was moved wide with big runners Ranger and Halai having chances before play swung to the right and Halai took a well-timed pass from prop Angus Ta'avao to score.
Williams knocked the ball on in midfield directly from the restart, and Higginbotham was perfectly placed to take the rebound and drive ahead. From the ruck, a long pass found second five-eighth Lachlan Mitchell and he fed centre Mitch Inman for the try.
Halai prodiced a superb piece of aerial work in fielding a box kick from Phipps to create the 18th-minute try for Saili. As the ball moved to the left, Ranger, on the end of the line, passed back to supporting Saili, who crashed over even though he seemed to have knocked on in the act of scoring.
The Blues started to throw the ball around, and breaks started to appear on the Rebels' flanks. The Blues were in no mood to let the opportunities go, and a 22nd-minute maul turnover saw fullback Charles Piutau run into the midfield and then fling the ball wide for Halai to cross for his second. The Blues then ran the ball from the 22-metre directly from the restart, and Ranger charged down the right flank, pushing off O'Connor, who immediately left the field signalling a chest concern.
The Blues executed a simple backline move, with Noakes feeding Saili cutting back to claim his second try, but their defence was caught short from the restart and Higginbotham took advantage of a gap to charge ahead for a soft try. Another breakout produced a third try for Halai after Ranger played in the stand-off role from a ruck and flung a wide pass that saw Halai to step opposite number Cooper Vuna for the try.
The Rebels started the second half with more purpose, camping in the Blues' 22 for five minutes and scoring through Mitchell wide out after they had seen one try denied because there was no sighting of the ball hitting the ground. The Rebels continued to keep the ball tight, and they and profited again with several pick-and-goes before moving the ball wide in the 61st minute for Inman to get over for his second.
Ranger then scored his try to deny the Rebels momentum, and to secure the victory, but the visitors claimed a deserved two bonus points when Rebels fullback Jason Woodward crossed for a converted try from a well-worked move in the final act of the game.
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