The Auckland Blues cemented their lead in Super Rugby Pacific as Australian favorites ACT Brumbies beat Otago Highlanders to prevent a clean sweep of New Zealand sides as the competition entered its trans-Tasman phase this weekend.
Auckland produced a sub-par effort but were still good enough to earn a bonus point with a 35-18 win over Fijian Drua to move one point ahead of the Brumbies who beat the Highlanders 28-17.
After two months of local derbies in their home country, the reopening of the borders allowed the “Super Round” with all matches played in Melbourne.
The Waikato Chiefs and Wellington Hurricanes also recorded wins for the New Zealand sides, with the NSW Waratahs unable to last 80 minutes against the ‘Canes and the Reds appearing to choke after leading the Chiefs early.
The Blues‘ performance bore little resemblance to the impressive way they beat the Crusaders in an intense encounter the previous week.
They struggled to take a 21-10 half-time lead and, after Reiko Ioane threatened to open the game with an interception try from 70 yards out early in the second half, the Drua went on. responded with a try on bull winger Onisi Ratave.
AJ Lam responded by creating a 17-point buffer for the Blues who then had to hang on for the final 10 minutes when they were reduced to 14 men by Karl Tu’inukuafe’s yellow card.
Blues coach Leon MacDonald regretted a “failed performance” against a unique Drua side.
“They’re not like other teams,” MacDonald said.
“Their style is different and the way they attack the game is refreshing and we’re sitting here frustrated because we couldn’t play the game we wanted because they didn’t allow us to.”
– Four tries for Lowe –
The Brumbies started well but needed a late Noah Lolesio try to move within a point of the Blues after the Otago Highlanders were denied a try that could have snatched the game away from the Canberra-based side.
“It was tough,” Brumbies scrum-half Nic White said. “We knew the momentum was going to change. They made us work for it.”
The Reds took a 17-0 lead over the Hurricanes, then took a back seat as the Wellington side recovered to win 30-17.
“I’m really proud of that first half,” said Reds captain Tate McDermott, who regretted his team’s error rate. “But we came out in the second of a different team and that’s really disappointing.
“You’re giving the Kiwis so many chances, so much possession, you’re asking them for trouble.”
Jonah Lowe scored four tries as the Chiefs pulled away from the Waratahs to win 51-27 on Friday.
It was a horror start for the Waratahs with Angus Bell shown a red card in the second minute for a tackle on Chiefs captain Sam Cane and 10 minutes later midfielder Jamie Roberts was shown a yellow card .
The Waratahs cut the margin to 30-17 at half-time and closed in three early in the second half when they regained their full strength, before the Chiefs’ powerful finishing flurry.
“Until probably the last 10 minutes or so the game was even, there for the hold,” Cane said.
Waratahs coach Darren Coleman refused to blame the end result on poor early discipline.
“The crux is that the Kiwis blew us away in the last 15-20 minutes, as they have for years, so we better get that sorted.”
Perennial champions Canterbury Crusaders take on Melbourne Rebels on Sunday night while Western Force’s game against Moana Pasifika was postponed as the Perth squad were exhausted by coronavirus.