The final day at Owen Delany Park saw the Blues save their best for last, trouncing the Crusaders 48-27.
Blues 48 (Chlayton Frans, Sam Hainsworth-Fa’aofo 2, Wallace Sititi, Allan Craig, Jordan Hutchings, Quinton Nichols tries; Byron Smith 4 con, Cameron Howell con, pen) Crusaders 27 (George Bell, Nikola Vikena 2, Macca Springer tries; Jack Parker con pen, James White con) HT: 19-3
The catalyst for the Blues success was a powerhouse display by their loose forward trio, Chlayton Frans, Sam Hainsworth-Fa’aofo and captain Wallace Sititi.
Each was rewarded for their graft with first-half tries with Sititi particularly damaging. He made repeat breaks in the second-spell too, even showing slight of hand to send second-five Quinton Nichols tearing away for a cracking second-half try, a blow that well and truly settled the outcome.
By contrast Crusaders were ill-disciplined and lacked the intensity of their previous two outings. Their scrum was once again a real positive.
Crusaders first-five Jack Parker kicked a penalty to open the scoring, the only points in a messy beginning.
The Blues back row was hungry using their size to good effect. Blindside Clayton France crossed initially after illusive fullback Liam Brady found space with swift footwork. Openside Sam Hainsworth-Fa’aofo used a fend and his back to carry two Crusaders ten-metres over the line with him. When Sititi stepped past the last marker, the Crusaders were in trouble.
Blues lock Allan Craig continued the onslaught early in the second-spell, emulating the direct approach of his loosies with a barge over.
Crusaders hooker George Bell was a standout. His slashing 35-metre run, even involving a goosie, showcased his considerable promise.
However individual breaks weren't enough to repel the collective assault of the Blues. Wing Nikola Vikena profited from Joe Brail and Macca Springer busts, but the Blues were always in control. The slimmest margin they led by in the second-half was 16 points.
Barbarians 56 (Keegan McGregor, Sean Ralph 2, Bryn Gordon, Joe Cobb, Karl Ruzich, Tahlor Cahill, Alfred Nonu tries; Josh Jacomb 8 con) Hurricanes 40 (Dominic Ropeti, Epeli Waqa-Nalaga 2, Peter Lakai, Cooper Flanders, Matt Monagham tries; Harry Godfrey 5 con) HT: 21-21
The Barbarians ended the tournament as the only unbeaten team after outlasting the Hurricanes in a free-spirited affair.
There were two key moments in the Barbarians success. Prior to halftime, and down 14-21, the Barbarians withstood a barrage of attack, mostly inside their 22, before scoring 28 points in 15 minutes to ensure the brave Hurricanes were always chasing.
Barbarians hooker Sean Ralph was a livewire. In the thick of the forward exchanges, he found himself on the wing in the 38th minute receiving a Karl Ruzich offload. His dash to the corner and sideline conversion by Josh Jacomb had the Barbarians level at the break, an immeasurable boost to their confidence.
The Barbarians play in the first 15 minutes of the second-half was as good as any team produced in the tournament. Bryn Gordon stormed clear down the same wing as Ralph for a fourth try, Joel Cobb finished a sweeping movement that traversed 75-metres and the exceptional Ruzich emerged from a maul and scampered 20-metres.
Down 42-26 the Hurricanes never gave up, but they had the worst defensive record of any team at the tournament.
Hurricanes first-five Harry Godfrey and centre Epeli Waqa-Nalaga were consistently dangerous. Blindside Domonic Ropeti performed strongly and openside Cooper Flanders has a big future.
Ruzich, No.8 Nikora Broughton, Jacomb and sturdy skipper Alfred Nonu were among the standouts for the Barbarians who played with flair and courage, despite little preparation.
Highlanders 26 (Noah Hotham, Semisi Tupou-Taeiloa tries; Cameron Miller 3 pen, 2 con, Finn Hurley pen) Chiefs 5 (Austin Anderson try)
The definitive moment of the match came in the 13th minute when the Highlanders bamboozled the Chiefs defence with a brilliant trick play from a lineout. Hotham claimed the lineout throw from halfback and scorched 20 metres, dummying his way past the covering Chiefs defence.
There was another moment of brilliance in the 17th minute when Highlanders’ fullback Finn Hurley carved through the Chiefs’ defence from 60-metres out. As the cover defence tried to drag him into touch he threw an outrageous out the back offload to No, 8 Tupou-Ta’eiloa who crashed over in a couple of tackles to make the score 14- 0.
The Highlanders halves kicked extremely well, clever kicks from Hotham turning the Chiefs’ big pack around and Cameron Millar’s booming boot carving off massive territory for his team. A couple of penalties before the break by Millar made the score 20-0, and the Highlanders added another 3 after the break.
The Chiefs were rewarded for their endeavour in the 64th minute when relentless forward drives laid the platform for second- five Anderson to spin over powerfully in two tackles. The Chiefs narrowed the score to 23-5; however, a late Highlanders penalty was all the scoring remaining and the Highlanders prevailed 26-5.
The Chiefs pack dominated the scrums, winning penalties and disrupting the Highlanders ball. The Highlanders pack grew into the game however and late in the match saved several scrums on their own line whilst under huge pressure. Both teams were mostly tidy in the lineouts, the Highlanders’ Fabian Holland notably winning much-ball.
Centre Jake Te Hiwi had some good moments with strong carries and broken tackles.
He showed good awareness and reaction time to snaffle a ball that escaped a messy ruck, and defended well in the midfield.
The Chiefs’ standout aside from their scrum was openside Veveni Lasaqa who ran powerfully and tackled well.