Three consecutive Super Rugby wins have Blues fans singing their praises, with none better than their gutsy 24-9 home win against the Stormers.
That latest triumph was crowned by brilliant tries to first-five Otere Black and wings Tanielu Tele’a and Rieko Ioane. But it was the courageous tackling which stopped the South Africans from capitalising on their two-thirds domination of possession and territory.
Patrick Tuipulotu’s bone-crunching hit on Stormers iron man Eben Etzebeth topped the charts during a heart-warming defensive effort that demonstrated the growing character of the former easy-beats.
Black is kicking the goals that eluded promising young Harry Plummer and veterans Ma’a Nonu and Sonny-Bill Williams are delivering a solid one-two punch as they share second-five duties inside Auckland Mitre 10 premiership star TJ Faiane who adds a cohesive mix with his fast hands and subtle touches.
Once again the back three of Ioane, Melani Nanai and Tele’a made some slashing runs, none better than Ioane’s glorious break through midfield upon coming off the blind before feeding the right wing.
Tele’a finished magnificently, his ramrod fend leaving two defenders biting the dust before breaking the tackle of the third.
Like Faiane and Dalton Papalii, Tele’a, 20, is a St Kentigern College Old Boy with a big future. Midfield is his preferred position but he’s not complaining learning from experienced campaigners Nonu and Williams.
Nonu has lost pace but he ran and tackled hard in his best game of the season.
In replacing Nonu, Williams set up one of his specials with a perfect offload for Black’s try.
Although lineout communication between hooker James Parsons and his jumpers leave much to be desired, the forwards are doing their bit in scrums and general play.
Parsons and flankers Tom Robinson, Blake Gibson and Papalli are tireless tacklers and Akira Ioane, one of the great attacking forwards, continues to lift his work rate to show he’s also prepared to do the hard graft.
That should please All Black selectors Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox, just as the improved all-round performance of Vaea Fifita will have.
Fifita was one of the few Hurricanes to perform in a Hurricanes side humiliated 32-8 on home soil by the champion Crusaders. who recovered well from their Sydney loss the previous week to the Waratahs who got pipped 31-29 by the brave Sunwolves,
Leading that upset was dynamic Semisi Masirewa, with three of his team’s four tries, and former Otago lad Hayden Parker who converted all four and added a penalty.
Last year the amazing Parker was successful with 38 consecutive kicks before missing. This season he has succeeded with all 32 he has attempted. Has anyone in the world gone close to matching that? I doubt it.
Meanwhile the national selectors should be concerned at some of the atrocious passing Beauden Barrett threw in crucifying his outside backs in the 32-8 loss to the Crusaders.
Twice International Rugby Player of the Year, Barrett is an exceptional talent, blessed with courage, speed and the ability to cover defend with try-saving tackles.
He also scores his fair share but he sometimes throws hospital passes or ones that are easily intercepted.
Hence Ngani Laumape and Matt Proctor were handicapped in their midfield battle against Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author