theblues.co.nz 10.Feb.2013Getty Images
The Blues found themselves trailing late in the second half but they never gave up as wing Waisake Naholo scored two sensational tries before Saili bashed his way over from close range to clinch the win after the siren had sounded.
“I was really happy with their courage and commitment today,” Blues head coach Sir John Kirwan said.
"We did some really good things. We went away from our systems a wee bit but then worked really hard. We hung in there and never gave up so they’re all things that you can be proud of so I was pretty proud of them today.”
The Waratahs had the Blues stretched early on as they found space out wide, but it was the home side who struck first through exciting young winger Lolagi Visinia.
Following some quick ruck ball, Francis Saili sucked in two defenders before offloading to centre Rene Ranger, and from there it was a simple draw and pass as Visinia crossed the whitewash untouched.
Fullback Albert Nikoro’s conversion gave the Blues a 7-0 lead after 12 minutes, but the Waratahs hit back just before the end of the first quarter.
Wallabies flanker Michael Hooper put in a strong performance and it was his turnover on the Blues’ five metre line that led to fullback Cam Crawford scoring for the visitors.
The Blues’ dynamic young backs showed plenty of flair and from a quick lineout deep inside their own half they sparked an attacking raid as Ranger, Francis Saili and Visinia combined to give the Blues an attacking five metre lineout.
From there the bruising forwards took over, mauling the ball over the try line as number eight Peter Saili came up with the five pointer to give the Blues a 12-7 lead at halftime.
Sir John Kirwan made a raft of changes to personnel in the second stanza and it seemed to stifle the Blues’ momentum as the Waratahs roared back into the match.
Centre Malakai Fekitoa’s grubber kick backfired as Waratahs flanker Jed Holloway latched onto it and ran 40 metres to score.
Israel Folau’s introduction to the game at halftime had an immediate impact as he found plenty of holes in the Blues’ defence and set up wing Tom Kingston for a brace of tries.
The Blues managed to narrow the deficit to just five points through prop Tim Perry who produced a lovely show-and-go to crash over under the sticks, but some more slick footwork by Folau saw him carve up the defence to score a brilliant individual try.
However Waisake Naholo caught the ball from the ensuing re-start to run away for a sensational try, before bagging his second soon afterwards to put the Blues ahead 33-31 with just 11 minutes remaining.
Kingston’s third try of the afternoon appeared to have clinched the victory for the visitors with just minutes left on the clock, but Saili’s try at the death following a sustained passage of play snatched it for the Blues as the 5,000 strong Northland crowd erupted into applause.
Captain Ali Williams produced a solid performance in his first game of the year, putting in some big hits in defence and carrying the ball strongly before being substituted at half time.
Crowd favourite Rene Ranger always threatened with ball in hand and created a number of try scoring opportunities, while Culum Retallick, George Moala and Chris Noakes all made successful returns to action following injuries.
The Blues will complete their pre-season preparations with a trial match against the Highlanders in Queenstown on Friday.