Blues run rampant but injury toll costly

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Lynn McConnell     02 May 2015     Getty Images

The teenaged flanker, and former Sevens international, had already featured in several strong runs with the ball when in the 48th minute he received the ball from replacement five-eighths Ihaia West and raced into a gap to clear out from the defence and race 50m before scoring in fullback Dane Haylett-Petty's tackle.

It came moments after a mid-field bust by second five-eighths George Moala, who was a constant thorn in the Force's side, which saw him link with flanker Brendan O'Connor and racing up in support and in for his second try was another young star of the evening wing Melani Nanai Vai.

Nanai Vai then made the break which set up a 67th minute try for replacement first five-eighths Ihaia West.

Uplifting as the win may have been for the Blues, they suffered three costly blows for the remainder of the season with captain and inspirational loose forward Jerome Kaino suffering a suspected broken finger and fullback Charles Piutau suffering a medial ligament injury. First five-eighths Daniel Bowden joined them early in the second half with an undisclosed injury.

Debilitating as the injuries may have been, they provided flanker Steven Luatua with an opportunity from the 18th minute to demonstrate his disappointment at having been left out of the original side for Ioane. He had a strong game and West likewise reminded team management that he was still capable of producing the goods.

Powerful build-up work by the grinders up front created the first chance in the game which was well taken by Nanai Vai when he made the most of a break by halfback Jimmy Cowan. Darting around the blindside of a ruck, Cowan drew a Force defender and fired a long pass across to Nanai Vai which took him around his marker and straight down the sideline for the try.

Ill-disciplined play from the Force denied them chances, several times in the first half, when they had the better in territory and possession stakes. They had the Blues under pressure but couldn't capitalise. Their situation was compounded when Haylett-Petty was sin-binned for taking fullback Lolagi Visinia out in the air under a high ball. In the second half they missed too many tackles to stay in touch with the home side.

After the Haylett-Petty dismissal the Blues took advantage when travelling 80m downfield in play resulting from the subsequent penalty. It seemed prop Tony Woodcock had crossed after another strong Ioane break, but television evidence couldn't confirm he had grounded the ball.

But from the five-metre scrum replacement No.8 Steven Luatua picked the ball off the back of the scrum and ploughed his way across beneath the goalposts.
The Force scored four tries, to prop Pek Cowan, flanker Matt Hodgson, who had a fine game in the loose, halfback Ryan Louwrens and No.8 Ben McCalman, but they came too late to be of any other consequence than providing a four-try bonus point and was never enough to threaten a rampant Blues side.

Scorers: Blues 41 (Melani Nanai Vai 2, Steven Luatua, Akira Ioane, Ihaia West tries; Dan Bowden 2 con, pen; Lolagi Visinia con; Ihaia West 2 con, pen) Force 24 (Pek Cowan, Matt Hodgson, Ryan Louwrens tries; Luke Burton con; Sias Ebersohn). HT: 17-0