The formidable Blues have underlined their Super Rugby Pacific title favoritism by blowing away the outgunned Rebels 71-28 in a wild game at Auckland’s Eden Park on Friday night.
The Rebels were jubilant early when lock Josh Canham plucked an intercept try to give the Melbourne club a shock 14-0 lead after just five minutes.
But the competition leaders then woke up and played some sublime rugby, mixing power, skill and speed to score 47 straight points for a 47-14 halftime lead.
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Rebels stun Blues with brilliant start
The Rebels improved slightly in the second half but still conceded 11 tries to four as the Ioane brothers in particular cashed in.
Center Rieko scored a hat-trick while flanker Akira grabbed a brace while winger Mark Telea scored a spectacular try of the season contender.
“I’m really disappointed because we were starting to build a lot of momentum in our season,” Rebels captain Matt Philip said.
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“We just weren’t turning up in contact. It wasn’t a skill thing.”
The Rebels drop to 3-8 and are now ninth on the ladder after being leapfrogged by the Highlanders.
Stan Sport pundit Andrew Mehrtens described the first half as “extraordinary.”
“There’s so much firepower, 1-15 in the Blues,” Mehrtens said.
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Speaking at half-time, Rebels assistant coach Geoff Parling bemoaned a passive defensive effort.
“We just allowed them to run at us,” Parling said.
“They got some possession, we’ve been poor off the line, slow off the line and we’ve not made tackles. We’ve not reviewed much technical points at half-time, it’s all about character now. We’re just giving them too much time.
“They’ve got dangerous runners, we’re not getting in their faces and we’re not making our tackles. We don’t think what we need to do is overly complicated but we need to show some fight because at the moment we ‘re letting them run, letting them offload and letting them score.
The win extended the Blues win streak to 10 – now just two short of the franchise record mark of the 1997 championship-winning outfit.
The second half was more orderly than the first as the frenetic scoring pace subsided.
But the Blues are not a second half team.
Throughout the season, their success has been based on building substantial leads, then holding on grimly in the second half.
On Friday they outscored the Rebels 24-14 after half-time as the match gradually lost shape and structure.
The Rebels took small consolation from late tries to flanker Brad Wilkin – their first in 68 minutes – and fullback Reece Hodge who added the 15th and final try of the match in the last minute.
The Blues finished with their largest-ever win at Eden Park but fell short of their highest-winning totals and margins in Super Rugby.
“We’ve got a lot to learn. We can’t start matches like that against other opponents,” Blues captain Dalton Papali’i said.
“We just need to find balance.
“Some games we defend really well but the attack is not there. This game we attacked well but there wasn’t much defence. We have to find the balance in games and when we find that we should be a difficult team to beat.”
Friday’s win extended the Blues lead atop the championship table.
Its larger relevance to the tournament was hard to judge.
The matches between New Zealand and Australian teams in Australia over the last two weekends generally have been closed.
Friday’s match may indicate a period when New Zealand teams are more dominant on their home grounds.
But the match was a victim of its own extraordinary beginning.
After such a rapid start, defenses never really settled down and one try followed another in an appealing match for spectators.
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