Blues win 'icing on the cake' for Weepu
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New Super Rugby centurion Piri Weepu reckoned he didn't care about the result, he was just over the moon to celebrate one of the special moments in his career with his two daughters.
But the veteran All Black halfback had to concede the Blues' subsequent upset 34-20 victory over the Hurricanes in Wellington last night had been the "icing on the cake" of a night that will live long in the memory.
Weepu, a long-time Hurricane before his move north last season, masterminded a fabulous second-half performance from the new-look Baby Blues that saw them thunder home to secure a bonus point with a four tries to two victory.
The Blues had trailed 13-11 at the break and looked in deep trouble when two-try wing Frank Halai was pinged for a penalty try offence midway through the second spell and despatched to the bin.
That put the resurgent visitors into a 20-16 hole, with an awkward 10 minutes to get through while a man down.
But instead of dampening the spirits of this young side, it spurred them to greater heights as they finished with tries to Rene Ranger - celebrating his 50th game for the franchise - and Halai. Fittingly Weepu applied the final flourish with a penalty to ice a famous upset.
"It was a special moment," said Weepu of the occasion which saw him honoured pre-game for his 100 games, most of which were spent in the jersey of the home team.
"Win or lose the result didn't faze me, it was about taking it all in really and I guess I was trying to help the young boys understand what it's like to play professional footy at this level.
"Those young fellas dug deep and we managed to finish really well."
Weepu admitted the emotions had been acute as he walked out with his daughters, Keira and Taylor, who were presented with commemorative jerseys from both teams.
"Running out there with my two kids and spending that special moment with them, you try to hold the tears in," said Weepu afterwards. "When I got out there I just managed to do it.
"It was pretty emotional. It's not often you get to achieve a milestone like that, and to be home in Wellington and share that special moment with my family was the icing on the cake really."
The trimmed-down halfback said it had all been a bit daunting for his girls, but he wouldn't have had it any other way. "Whether we won or lost, I was just happy to share that moment with my daughters."
For the record, the eldest, Keira, pulled rank and took the 'Canes jersey.
Not that Weepu wasn't rapt to be wearing his Blues jersey on Saturday night, as the new era under Sir John Kirwan was launched in spectacular style. Youngsters like Charles Piutau, Francis Saili, Halai, George Moala and Steven Luatua stepped up to the mark splendidly, aided and abetted by some savvy leadership from Weepu, Ranger and skipper Ali Williams.
"The boys showed a lot of enthusiasm and excitement during the week," said Weepu. "We tried to play it down a bit, as we didn't want the young fellas to get ahead of themselves and play the game before we got here.
"I was just trying to keep the nerves intact, and wait till we got out here to try and express selves on the field. The young boys showed up.
"We talked about just trying to win the respect back after last season and with the effort they put in tonight we're heading in the right direction to earn that respect back."
Weepu also felt the contentious penalty try, in the 56th minute, had ended up being a turning point - but for the team on the receiving end.
"We were disappointed. It was a 50-50 call. You've got two guys going for the ball and to come away with a penalty try and yellow card is pretty tough. We just tried to focus on the next job and do everything we could to buy time for Frank to get back on the field."
The 29-year-old halfback said the inexperienced Blues lineup had shown "guts" to dig deep when it counted. "We're not taking anything for granted this year. The boys are trying to work hard as team and it showed out there."
An ecstatic Kirwan was dishing out hugs to his fellow coaches after the game, but conceded he was not quite so joyous when the penalty try call went against his side.
"I could have killed someone," he said. "I couldn't believe it. It was a rollercoaster for me in the coaching box, and obviously it was a real spur for the boys.
"I don't know what happened under the posts but apparently Ali Williams was outstanding. He kept the boys up and kept making sure they were driving in the right direction."
And now for the Blues as they head home to host the Crusaders on Friday night?
"It makes it a lot easier," shrugged Kirwan. "When you get the W it's a lot easier. We need to keep our feet on the ground. We've done nothing yet so we've just got to keep working hard."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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