Rugby-Blues storm past Brumbies into Super Rugby final


  • Rugby
  • Friday, 14 Jun 2024

Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2023 - Pool A - France v New Zealand - Stade de France, Saint-Denis, France - September 8, 2023 New Zealand's Dalton Papali'i during the warm up before the match REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier/ File Photo

(Reuters) - The Auckland Blues rode their relentless forward power to the Super Rugby Pacific final for the second time in three years on Friday with a 34-20 semi-final victory over the ACT Brumbies at Eden Park.

The three-times Super Rugby champions scored four tries in the first quarter and one more after the break to set up a title decider against the Wellington Hurricanes or Waikato Chiefs, who meet in Saturday's second semi-final.

The Brumbies gave themselves too much to do after a poor start and exit at the semi-final stage for the third straight year, again leaving the competition an all-New Zealand affair at the business end.

"It means so much to this group of players, we've got a lot of old guys in the side and we've been through so much together," said Blues flanker Dalton Papali'i, who was standing in as captain for the injured Patrick Tuipulotu.

"We've got one more game to go."

The Australians failed to adapt to the wet conditions early on and the Blues were happy to exploit a series of basic errors, particularly on the restart, with their distinctive brand of direct, physical rugby.

Multiple phases of pick and go from the home pack set up tries for centre AJ Lam, hooker Ricky Riccitelli, lock Sam Darry and winger Caleb Clarke to give the home side a 24-6 lead inside the first 21 minutes.

Brumbies number eight Rob Valetini was unstinting in his effort and got his reward with a try from close range four minutes before the break but Blues flyhalf Harry Plummer kicked a 47m penalty to give his side a 27-13 lead at halftime.

The visitors, looking to become the first Australian team in 28 years of Super Rugby to win a playoff in New Zealand, knew they needed to score first in the second half and came close through Billy Pollard.

The hooker got the ball to the line but only after a double movement and other promising attacks were stymied when the final pass just failed to go to hand.

The Blues' pack got back to business just before the hour mark when another series of big ball carries resulted in number eight Hoskins Sotutu driving over the line under the posts for his 12th try of the season.

The Brumbies were still fighting and replacement flanker Luke Reimer found a way through the steely Blues defence from a metre out in the 69th minute to cut the deficit to 14 points.

Their problems at the restart returned, however, and Nick Frost was shown a yellow card for taking out Clarke in the air, the replacement lock carrying Australian hopes of a remarkable comeback off the pitch with him.

"You can't give a side like that that sort of ascendancy at the beginning of the game," said Brumbies captain Allan Alaalatoa.

"We tried to fight hard from there, but I think they got too much of a lead at the start of the game."

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Peter Rutherford)

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