Super Rugby Pacific: Blues held scoreless in second half; take slim win over Western Force

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Blues 22
Western Force 18

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The Blues have avoided a complete boilover in Perth.

After a largely unimpressive performance in their win over Fijian Drua last week, the side needed to back their defence for five minutes after the final hooter to see off the Western Force 22-18 in Perth – failing to score a point in the second half.

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For a 15-minute period in the first half, the Blues showed what they are capable of and had their way with the Force. As they dictated the pace with quick ruck ball and strong carries, the Blues were able to pick their shots and scored 22 points in quick succession.

But for all the good in that short space of time, the Blues still struggled to put it all together consistently. Poor option taking or execution allowed the Force to get back into the game – highlighted by a sequence which saw Beauden Barrett kick the ball dead when aiming to the corner from a penalty, and soon after saw Finlay Christie throw the ball of his own dead ball line in an attempt to find Barrett for a clearance.

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Discipline let the side down early – three offside calls in less than five minutes seeing Sam Darry sin binned – and late in the contest, though their defensive efforts covered for their lapses in other areas.

There were some individual performances to catch the eye. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck seemed to be involved in everything when the attack was clicking, with some important touches in the build-up to points. Luke Romano carried well and made things physical where he could, while loose trio Dalton Papalii, Anton Segner and Akira Ioane were all strong across the park.

Things couldn’t have started much worse for the Blues. Finding themselves a man down inside five minutes, they were soon 8-0 down after Bayley Kuenzle slotted a penalty goal and Manasa Mataele scored in the corner.

The Blues hit back at their first opportunity from the boot of Barrett – which took a couple of minutes off the clock while they awaited Darry’s return.

Once back to their full complement, the Blues imposed themselves on the Force. First, Darry scored from a quick pick-and-go from the base of the ruck close to the line, before Akira Ioane bullied his way over from about 5m out.

When Tuivasa-Sheck put AJ Lam over in the corner half an hour into the contest, it looked like things might get out of hand quickly as the Blues had quickly run out to a 22-8 lead.

It was there were things stopped working for the visitors.

They took that lead into the half and should have extended it with plenty of pressure early in the second half. Even when Force prop Santiago Medrano was sinbinned for a cynical foul, they couldn’t do anything with the numbers advantage.

Instead, they allowed the Force back into the game as the Blues discipline again became an issue, while replacement hooker Ricky Riccitelli’s issues with the lineout throw gave the Force extra possessions.

Things started to get a bit nervy for the Blues when Jeremy Thrush went over for the Force in the 63rd minute, before a 76th minute try to Bo Abra brought the Force to within four points.

A game the Blues should have put to bed early was instead on a knife edge, and the Force sensed they were on the verge of something special.

However, despite plugging away inside the Blues’ 22m for more than 24 phases and five minutes beyond the hooter, the visitors defence held strong and they closed out the win.

Blues 22 (Sam Darry, Akira Ioane, AJ Lam tries; Beauden Barrett 2 cons, pen)
Western Force 18 (Manasa Mataele, Jeremy Thrush, Bo Abra tries; Bayley Kuenzle pen)
HT: 22-8

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