Rugby-Blues thrash Waratahs 41-12 to reach Super semi-finals

  • Rugby
  • Friday, 09 Jun 2023

(Reuters) -The Auckland Blues stormed into the semi-finals of Super Rugby Pacific with a 41-12 demolition of the hapless New South Wales Waratahs at Eden Park on Friday.

Finlay Christie, Nepo Laulala, Ricky Riccitelli, Zarn Sullivan and Mark Telea grabbed the tries for the Blues who stretched their winning streak to nine over the Waratahs in Michael Hooper's final game for the Sydney side.

"There's still work to be done, but still pretty happy with that performance," said Blues captain Dalton Papali'i.

"They're a good team and it's such a hard competition now ... We just knew we had to bring it."

The Blues will likely face the Canterbury Crusaders next in a repeat of last year's final, with the defending champions strongly favoured to beat Fijian Drua as quarter-final hosts in Christchurch on Saturday.

Leon MacDonald's Blues finished third in the regular season but appear to be peaking at the right time.

Their All Blacks forwards bossed the breakdown and their nimble backs were virtually flawless with ball in hand against the Waratahs, who were thrashed 55-21 in the teams' previous meeting at Eden Park.

The Waratahs were fighting history as well as the Blues, with no Australian team having ever won a Super Rugby playoff in New Zealand.

They snatched a try through Ned Hanigan in the third minute from a Blues mistake and led 7-0 in a heady start.

But that was as good as it got for Darren Coleman's team who were then kept scoreless until 10 minutes from the siren when winger Dylan Pietsch ran on to a cross-kick for an easy try.

Christie responded to Hanigan's early try with one of his own in the 17th minute but the Waratahs hung in the game until Pietsch blew a chance for a five-pointer near the left corner by failing to ground the ball.

Christie had a hand in that, diving across to knock the ball out of Pietsch's grasp.

The Blues forwards then got to work, allowing Laulala to bulldoze over two minutes from the break.

Up 17-7 at halftime, the hosts wrapped up the match quickly with Riccitelli and Sullivan crossing in an eight-minute burst.

Blues flyhalf Beauden Barrett was laser-sharp on his return from injury, the All Blacks playmaker slotting four conversions and a penalty in a perfect night off the tee.

The remaining quarter-finals are all on Saturday, with the table-topping Waikato Chiefs hosting the Queensland Reds in Hamilton.

The ACT Brumbies, the only Australian side to earn hosting rights in the quarter-finals, face the Wellington Hurricanes in the late match in Canberra.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Toby Davis)

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