Fans singing the Blues

Akira Ioane was in fine form. Photo Sky Sports

Wonderful wins by the Blues and Warriors over the Lions and South Sydney respectively has given hope to rugby union and league fans whose loyalty has been severely tested for too many years.

Both teams surpassed expectations with the Blues snatching a thrilling last-gasp 38-35 win at high altitude Johannesburg’s Ellis Park and the Warriors fully deserving of their 32-20 triumph in the Perth heat.

It was a huge relief for Tana Umaga (Blues) and Stephen Kearney (Warriors) who have captained their country as outstanding players only to run into too many speed bumps as coaches.

Hopefully the worm has turned.

Having lost their first two games of the Super Rugby season against the Highlanders and Chiefs, few gave the Blues a chance with them having to travel to South Africa to take on 2016 and 2017 finalists, the Lions, who lost both championships to the Hurricanes and Crusaders respectively.

But the Blues showed character, improved cohesion and real depth off the bench to finish strongly with substitutes Jimmy Tupou and Murphy Taramai scoring tries in the wake of two from Rieko Ioane and a beauty from brother, Akira.

Akira deservedly won man of the match honours for his brilliant attack, high work rate and aggressive defence.

What was most pleasing beyond his work rate was a lower body position that offered a smaller target for defenders trying to cope with his power and footwork.

However the Blues had to work hard to overcome a 21-10 halftime deficit with a Sonny Bill Williams dropped ball from the kick-off giving the Lions a scrum from which they scored.

A penalty against Williams in the second half led to another Lions try. But he redeemed himself with a determined break which eventually led to Taramai’s match-winner.

It was one of the few times Williams hit the line at pace, thereby limiting opportunities for centre partner Rieko Ioane whose class still netted him two tries.

Another to shine when given his chance off the bench was young Taranaki first-five Stephen Perofeta who has a sharp rugby brain and calm disposition to complement his dancing feet.

It was a a nice cameo for a player recovering from a broken hand although it must be conceded starting first-five Bryn Gatland performed well in all three games he has played.

With the Hurricanes shocking the Crusaders 29-19 with a fast start and celebrating a welcome return by talented Jordie Barrett and the Highlanders hammering the Stormers 33-15 it was a good weekend for NZ teams.

Meanwhile there was much joy for Warriors fans after their team started the season looking and acting much fitter and stronger than they did last season when they lost their last nine games.

Although their lack of discipline resulted in them conceding too many penalties, they have made some smart buys in signing Tohu Harris, Blake Green and Adam Blair although the latter had a quiet game.

Especially pleasing was the return to form and fitness of Issac Luke who made several elusive darts from dummy half and the jinky running of scrum half Shaun Johnson.

Hopefully they will maintain the tempo with a win against the Gold Coast Titans who showed they are no bunnies upon upsetting the Canberra Raiders 30-28.

  • Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author