Sloppy Blues drop another one
The Rebels condemned the Blues to what now looks like almost certain also-ran status in this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby series with a richly deserved 34-23 win in Melbourne on Thursday.
It was the wizardry of inside centre James O’Connor that set up the win, as the Wallaby seemed to inspire those around him with a superb individual performance, but the man of the match award could just as easily have gone to a member of their committed forward unit. The Rebels pack took a pounding at the scrums yet managed to man up on defence and attacked the rucks aggressively.
Their skipper Gareth Delve touched down the clincher on the final whistle just as the Blues had come back into it to threaten a late burglary like the one affected by the Cheetahs a couple of weeks ago. The final score ensured an emphatic win over one of the competition’s pre-season favourites that should dramatically boost their confidence as they look forward to the matches that lie ahead.
The previous week the Rebels had done well in the first half hour only to blow it by relinquishing their hold on the game either side of halftime against the Highlanders, and it looked like turning out that way again. The Rebels had led 11-3 after 18 minutes as a Kurtley Beale intercept try from the Rebels’ own tryline added to two penalties from O’Connor, but the Blues looked to be getting momentum just before the break.
Two Gareth Anscombe penalties made it 11-9 to the Rebels at halftime, and the slow poison of the Blues scrum appeared to be taking effect. And when straight after the restart the Blues built up an advantage in numbers to create a try for Rudi Wulf that claimed the Auckland team the lead for the first time in the match, it looked like that might be it for the Rebels.
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Maybe the Blues thought so too, for they lost their earlier intensity after that and allowed the Rebels to take control of the possession battle from then on. Two O’Connor penalties put the Rebels back into the lead, and then with a quarter of an hour to go a powerful drive across the advantage line by wing Mark Gerrard was carried on by reserve hooker Jed Robinson, who popped inside on the Blues line for O’Connor to round off.
The conversion made it 24-18, and another O’Connor penalty -- he also missed a few on the night, so the game could have been even more one-sided -- pushed the lead to 11 points with eight minutes to go.
As dominant as they were in the scrums, so the Blues were abject at the technical basics, and the quick tap penalty that they knocked on metres from the line summed up their night, and maybe their entire season up to now. At the time they had six minutes to go, so although they did score a try to Chris Lowry, predictably bursting off the back of a strong five metre scrum, a little later, by then there were only two minutes left.
That meant the Blues had to run out of their own 22 after the restart, something that was tough to do against the aggressive Rebels defence. They conceded a scrum put-in, the Rebels held onto the ball, and Delve was there to put the cherry on the cake to the accompaniment of chants of “Wales, Wales, Wales…” from their fans in the stands.
It was the Blues’ fifth defeat in six matches and leaves them stone last on the log as the competition heads towards the middle stages.
Melbourne Rebels – Try: Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor, Gareth Delve. Conversions: James O’Connor (2). Penalties: James O’Connor (5).
Blues – Try: Rudi Wulf. Chris Lowrey. Conversions: Gareth Anscombe (2). Penalties: Gareth Anscombe (3)