Blues brutalise Hurricanes at Garden of Eden
Today Jerome Kaino will celebrate a thoroughly deserved return to the All Blacks; last night the beautifully brutal loose forward inspired his Blues to a lifeline Super Rugby victory that has cast a rather large shadow over the Hurricanes own playoff hopes.
Kaino was magnificent as the Blues ran in five to dismantle the Hurricanes 37-24 and continue their perfect record on Eden Park this season. With their sixth victory of the season - all on their hallowed home turf - the Blues surge to 31 points with three matches remaining.
The top six remains a long way off but at least they still have a sniff with the Force, Crusaders and Chiefs to come, post-June.
The Canes picked up a valuable late bonus point to edge on to 37 points with their seventh defeat of the season, and with only home games to come against the Crusaders and Chiefs it's going to require something special for them to sneak into the top six. They'll need near the maximum from those two tricky fixtures before finishing with the bye.
The Blues were pretty damn good on a night that encapsulated their roller-coaster season. This was the good version. The side that plays with physicality and flair, and combines them both into a tasty cocktail of fast-twitch rugby.
They were well led by Kaino in form that will have Steve Hansen smiling to himself. But not far behind him was lock Patrick Tuipulotu, who showed exactly why his name will be among the chosen 31 unveiled today to face the Poms.
It was a pretty solid effort all-round from the Blues, who started slowly, but worked into a 15-7 lead by halftime and took control of the match with two early tries in the second spell. New No 10 Ihaia West had a promising starting debut with a sharp display, Pita Ahki was excellent in midfield and the home forwards won the physical battle after taking 10 minutes or so to find their feet.
The Hurricanes never found any rhythm and though there were moments of brilliance from their big names, there was not enough of a sustained nature until it was too late.
The Blues, with a little help from their friend in the TMO box, worked their way into a 15-7 halftime lead after soaking up a fair amount of pressure from a slightly off-kilter Canes outfit.
The visitors had started well enough, shooting out to a 7-0 lead around the 10th minute on the back of two big set-piece statements. The first came from a scrum penalty; the second when they drove across the line with brutal efficiency from the resultant lineout, loose forward Faifili Levave applying the finishing touch.
But within minutes the contest turned on its head. And, wouldn't you know it, we had ourselves another TMO controversy to send Twitter into overdrive. Ma'a Nonu keyed a big breakout down the left touch in combination with the impressive Pita Ahki, and as Nonu looked to feed Bryn Hall with an inpass the left hand of Hurricanes fullback Matt Proctor knocked the ball down.
Referee Garratt Williamson went upstairs, and after consultation with Glenn Newman, ruled a deliberate knockdown, a penalty try and despatched Proctor to the bin. That was some price to pay for what looked a fairly reflexive action.
No doubt up in the coach's box Sir John Kirwan was thinking to himself: "Finally, one goes our way."
Two minutes later the Hurricanes paid doubly when a beautiful grubber from Ahki sat up nicely for Lolagi Visinia and the Blues had upped their lead to eight. The visitors pressed hard for an answering score over the second quarter, but the Blues defence held well, helped by some pretty ordinary fare with ball in hand from the Canes.
The contest was effectively settled within five minutes of the restart, with man of the match Kaino and centre George Moala crossing to not only bring up the bonus point, but a 27-7 lead that left the men from the capital in a world of hurt.
Kaino's score was a beaut, all muscle and hustle, as the big comeback All Black would not be denied from about 10 metres out; and Moala's a peach of an angled run to the line as he opened up a big hole in the Canes defensive line for his seventh touchdown of the season.
Julian Savea's nice strike off Barrett's creativity briefly revived hopes of a Canes comeback, but Tuipulotu's score a quarter of an hour from the end settled things; leaving late tries to Ardie Savea and Levave to bring up a bonus point for the visitors.
Blues (Penalty try; Lolagi Visinia, Jerome Kaino,George Moala, Patrick Tuipulotu tries; Ihaia West 3 cons, 2 pens ), Hurricanes (Faifili Levave 2, Julian Savea, Ardie Savea tries; Beauden Barrett 2 cons). Ht: 15-7.
Sunday Star Times