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Blues Women close gap at top of ladder

Blues Women close gap at top of ladder

All BlacksMarch 31, 2024

The Super Rugby Aupiki final will be contested between Chiefs Manawa and the Blues in a fortnight.

Where will it be? Auckland and Hamilton remain contenders to host the decider after the Blues beat Manawa for the first time to close the gap to a solitary point in the championship standings.

Matatū earned their first victory of the season on Friday night defeating Hurricanes Poua 37-17 in Christchurch

Blues: 40 (Aldora Itunu, Grace Gago, penalty try, Sylvia Brunt, Maia Ross, Cheyenne Tuli-Fale tries; Krysten Cottrell 4 con) Chiefs Manawa: 26 (Ruby Tui, Luka Connor, Krystal Murray, Chelsea Semple tries; Renee Holmes con) HT: 28-14

With an ideal mix of brawn and beauty the Blues stunned Chiefs Manawa 40-26 in Hamilton to accomplish their first victory against the 2022 champions.

Blues captain Maia Roos emphasised with Sky TV afterward the Blues were determined to prove they are the best forward pack in the competition.  The Blues achieved that lofty ambition emphatically.

The Chiefs lineout was a muddle as the Blues boldly and vigorously contested almost everything. After a stoic start, the Manawa scrum too was dispatched into retreat.

The collective effort of the Blues tight five, Chryss Viliko, Grace Gago, Aldora Itunu, Eloise Blackwell, and Maama Vaipulu might have bookmakers readjusting their odds for the final in a fortnight.

The Blues set the tone early with forceful carries and direct attack. The Chiefs Manawa defense eventually wilted after a dozen minutes when Itunu became a smiling steamroller.

Manawa responded with a concerted passage of phases. A scrum followed and a glorious skip pass by Kiriana Nolan located an unmarked Ruby Tui.

The Blues caught lightning in a bottle from the 27th minute to the 32nd minute. Sensationally the score mushroomed to 28-7.

Gago rode the crest of a wave from a lineout drive. At the restart, Liana Mikaele Tu’u and Vaipulu stampeded from the Blues 22 to the Manawa red zone. An overlap emerged and the ball was headed to the right wing of Katelyn Vahaakolo until the palms of Renne Holmes spoiled a certain try.  Upon review, a penalty try was awarded with no defender outside Holmes who was dismissed to the sin bin for ten minutes. 

Harsh? Holmes could have made a compelling case she was attempting to catch possession. Vahaakolo not scoring a try in the situation was about as likely as a Flat Earther winning a Nobel Prize for science.

Manawa was in a complete tailspin.  Grace Steinmetz threw a pass that was intercepted by Sylvia Brunt. The Blues centre sprinted 40 metres into the embrace of her delirious teammates stretching behind the in-goal area.

Manawa regained some equilibrium before the break. Blues penalties gifted Manawa a lineout five meters shy of the visitors' line. The result? An obligatory try for the prolific Luka Connor.

In the 48th minute, Tui split the Blues open. Brunt rushed across and flattened the charismatic Black Fern. Tui’s game was over while Brunt had a ten-minute break for shoulder-on-head contact.

Manawa was unable to exploit the numerical advantage. In the 55th minute, Vahaakolo cut down the short side to buy the Blues some breathing room. A thumping kick by Patricia Maliepo saw the ball sit idly five meters short of the Manawa line. A hesitant Mererangi Paul went roaming but couldn’t escape the grasp of a tigerish Jaymie Kolose. Shock, horror! Paul threw an unsighted, reverse pass to Maia Ross and the Blues led 33-14.

The Manawa bench again added impact with Krystal Murray to the fore. Chelsea Alley celebrated her 100th first-class game with a try. The Blues intensity rarely wavered. The barging bustle of reserve prop Cheyenne Tuli-Fale was the exclamation mark.


Matatū:
37 (Rosie Kelly, Grace Brooker, Georgia Ponsonby 2, Lucy Jenkins 2, Martha Mataele tries; Liz McGoverne con) Hurricanes Poua: 17 (Layla Sae, Monica Tagoai, Rangimarie Sturmey tries; Isabella Waterman con). HT: 22-0. 

Matātu defeated the Hurricanes Poua for the first time in Super Rugby Aupiki and have jumped ahead of Poua in the standings with a round to play.

Matātu captain Alana Bremner celebrated her 100th first-class match. With five Farah Palmer Cup Premierships, 19 defenses of the JJ Stewart Trophy, an Aupiki crown, and a Rugby World Cup on her resume a win was the only acceptable way to mark Bremner’s milestone. The blindside flanker was typically industrious and inspirational in her Mahi.

Poua has been fiercely competitive in the first half of matches this season. That trend reversed for the visitors turning with a 22-0 deficit at the break. Poua won the last 40 minutes 17-15. 

Rosie Kelly opened the scoring after a dozen minutes. Wing Cheyelle Robins-Reti made a slashing break sneaking behind two decoy runners. Martha Mataele continued the momentum near the 22 before a deft inside pass put the fullback over.

Five minutes later Mataele would inject herself again, this time bursting vibrantly from a scrum before linking with centre Amy du Plessis, who created space for second five Grace Brooker. Brooker suffered 15 months of harrowing injury which saw her miss the Rugby World Cup in 2022. Her last two performances have been among the best of her career.

Georgia Ponsonby has been a guaranteed starter for the Black Ferns since 2022 but the hooker is being pressed hard by Manawa mauler Luka Connor. 

Ponsonby reminded Connor that it was she who scored from the maul in the Rugby World Cup final with a perfectly executed lineout drive after 28 minutes.

Poua enjoyed nearly two-thirds of possession and three-quarters of territory in the first half. Sloppy ball retention was a curse. 

In the 39th minute, Matatū broke out from their own 22, and Poua centre Shakira Baker was sent off after her shoulder appeared to strike rival halfback Maia Joseph’s throat. It was a desperate attempt at a save by Baker that went horribly wrong. She was shown her red card while receiving medical treatment.

Things went from bad to worse for Poua when Ponsonby scored a second try from the subsequent penalty and lineout drive.

Poua was inspired after the break. No 8 Layla Sae burst from the back of a scrum, steamrolled Kendra Reynolds, and surged 45 metres to score. Sae is an elite competitor and easily one of the best Poua players. Her run exhibited the same fluidity and joy that Eric Clapton and Duane Allman shared on the guitar in the 1970 Derek and the Dominos hit Layla which inspired her name.

Poua thwarted five minutes of persistent attack before Sae was box office again. She charged another 45 metres only to be stopped by Reynolds this time. A gut-busting 19 phases followed before a Laura Bayfield tackle and Brooker turnover forced a penalty.

Brooker received the ball on the crash from the following lineout and another penetrating run and quick recycle allowed Mataele to build up some speed. The last two Hurricanes tacklers might as well have been tenpins.

Prop Moomooga Palu is accustomed to bumping defenders aside. Two bullying runs in an eight-phase attack allowed Ponsonby to roam wide and throw a cracking cut-out pass to Lucky Jenkins.

Openside Jenkins is the ultimate toiler and she nabbed a second try in the 72nd minute when she was the first to arrive at a Hurricanes spillage from a grubber.

Matatū made 166 tackles compared with Poua's 79. Each side made 14 line breaks but the Hurricanes conceded 22 turnovers. Sam Taylor, Elinor Plum-King, Fai Laikong, and Rangimarie Sturmey from the bench held their heads up high for Poua

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