Lealiifano boots Brumbies to win over Blues
Still troubled by discipline issues that have proven costly in crunch games in the later part of the Investec Super Rugby season, the Blues were undone by the goal-kicking boot of second five-eighths Christian Lealiifano who kicked the Brumbies to a 20-13 win at Eden Park on Saturday night.
They had their chances but the well-knit forward effort of the visitors was better suited to the conditions with lively flanker Colby Faingaa featuring in a battle in the loose with home flanker Luke Braid.
Blindside flanker Peter Kimlin also worked well with skipper and No.8 Ben Mowen in the close quarter work required in the loose and in the tight the international pair of hooker Stephen Moore and prop Ben Alexander found the match situation right up their defensive alley.
Down 0-14 at the half-time break, the Blues came out much more fired up and were unlucky not to have gained more than a penalty when Brumbies wing got close to deliberately knocking the ball down just short of the Brumbies line. Another off-side from first five-eighths Matt Toomua two minutes later allowed his Blues opposite Chris Noakes to get his side on the board with a penalty goal.
Two pieces of class from Braid lifted the side back to 10-14 down. Firstly after the Brumbies laid siege to the Blues line after the first penalty goal for the home team it was a turnover by Braid that allowed the line to be cleared.
Then as the Blues began to find their running game it was some superb support play on the right flank to take an in-pass from Rene Ranger, who had done his own bit to lift the side with a stunning tackle on halfback Nic White, that set up the play which saw halfback Piri Weepu dart around the blindside, find space and then pass to Ranger who did the rest on a 10m burst to the line.
The game, the 1500th in Super Rugby's existence, could not have been played in less favourable conditions. A strong easterly blew heavy misty drizzle across the ground and into the faces of the home team in the first half.
The signs were ominous from the outset when Noakes had a grubber kicked blocked just outside the 22m area and first Toomua chased through to win the race to the touchdown. But referee Lourens van der Merwe queried the television match official if there had been a player in front of the kicker and the suspicion was confirmed with the Blues being awarded a penalty instead.
The Brumbies twice got into potential scoring positions in the first 15 minutes but on both occasions fell victim to handling issues with the wet ball, the second only inches from the Blues goal-line. But when hooker Keven Mealamu failed to retreat before playing in a ruck he was penalised five metres from the posts. Lealiifano goaled his second penalty in the 16th minute.
Twenty-one minutes into the game, the tactic of White launching box kicks finally produced fruit after George Moala was the first of the Blues rearguard to drop the ball. An advantage was ruled but the ball dropped out the side of the ruck and White toed it ahead to dive on the ball two metres short of the line to slide over to score.
The Blues had their first chance from a lineout after a penalty. While they failed to control the ball it was tidied and flanker Braid twice featured in taking the ball ahead. He looked to have got the ball over the line but the referee felt the ball was held up and the video evidence was inconclusive.
From the resulting scrum the Blues infringed and the Brumbies took play back into the Blues half.
The home team, especially, failed to control the ball, several times dropping it in favourable positions while their control at lineouts also reduced their effectiveness. Lealiifano landed a penalty goal after the half-time hooter to complete the scoring.
Scorers: Blues 13 (Rene Ranger try; Chris Noakes con, pen; Baden Kerr pen) Brumbies 20 (Nic White try; Christian Lealiifano 5 pen ). HT: 0-14