Blues impress in final pre-season rugby win over Chiefs

George Moala of the Blues avoids the tackle of Solomon Alaimalo of the Chiefs during their pre-season rugby match at ...
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George Moala of the Blues avoids the tackle of Solomon Alaimalo of the Chiefs during their pre-season rugby match at Alexandra Park in Auckland.

The result counts for little. Intent on the other hand, that certainly does. The Blues had it all over the Chiefs in this department, and fully deserved their 26-14 win in the final preseason hit out at Auckland's Alexandra Park.

Up against a formidable looking Chiefs side that included the return of Aaron Cruden, Brodie Retallick, who scored from a lineout drive, Anton Lienert-Brown and Tawera Kerr-Barlow from All Blacks duty, the Blues showed on Friday evening they will play for each other this season.

Aggression and line speed in defence were impressive elements from Tana Umaga's men. They hit hard, often, and dominated the collisions. No more was that evident than their set piece, one that also had the upper hand on the Hurricanes at the same venue last week.

The Blues rolled the Chiefs 24-16 in the final preseason hitout.
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The Blues rolled the Chiefs 24-16 in the final preseason hitout.

Up against his former team, Pauliasi Manu gave a statement performance at scrum time, getting the better of Nepo Laulala on several occasions.

"He lives scrums," Blues coach Umaga said. "We've got to try and ease back on how many scrums he does during the week but he is just one man. He brings the attitude and he's brought that through the full eight."

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Otago utility Michael Collins, playing at fullback, provided strong voice and direction. Former Chiefs halfback Augustine Pulu, Matt Duffie, who crossed twice and linked well, and Steven Luatua were others to shine as the Blues ran in four first half tries to lead 26-7 at the break.

This came without Jerome Kaino, Sonny Bill Williams, Patrick Tuipulotu and James Parsons stripping.

Accuracy was the biggest disappointment from the Chiefs. Their set piece battled to deliver a stable platform, and their ruck delivery was poor which stunted the ability of their backline to create space. The visitors found it difficult to crack determined goal line defence from the Blues, though did respond in the second spell. 

Clearly, the work Alistair Rogers (defence) and Steve Jackson (forwards) have put in during the preseason has sunk in for the Blues.

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But ultimately, Umaga knows it counts for nothing unless they turn up with the same intent in Melbourne next Thursday for the season opener against the Rebels.

"It's our last dress rehearsal before the season proper starts next week but we had a bit of effort in there and we were talking about accuracy all week so that was good," Umaga said. "We had a lot of players returning from injury and All Blacks duty - a guy like TJ Faiane it was his first 20 minutes in two years.

"There were a lot of positives we could take from the game. We know we can score tries it's trying to stop them that we've tried to work on. It was a good day today but it starts in earnest next Thursday for us. We've got to make sure we carry those things forward."

Blues openside flanker Blake Gibson was the only injury concern from the match but Umaga downplayed a shoulder knock that saw him leave the field.

Coming off their successful weekend at the Brisbane Tens, Rennie lamented his side's error count and suggested an attitude shift was needed before facing the Highlanders in Dunedin next week.

"Our set piece battled and we struggled to get things going off that," he said. "There were too many guys carrying into contact rather than carrying into space. We've got to tidy that up and win a few races to the cleanout to get some quicker ball. We got better as we went but it was a relatively disappointing first 60 minutes.

"We've got a fair bit to get right in the next seven days. We certainly won't got into the Highlanders game overconfident." 

 - Stuff

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