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Blues Women to host Super Rugby Aupiki final

Blues Women to host Super Rugby Aupiki final

All BlacksApril 7, 2024

The Blues will host the Super Rugby Aupiki final after they beat the Hurricanes Poua 41-29 on a postcard day in Levin.

Chiefs Manawa were tipped over by Matatū 22-20 to knock the former leaders off the top of the table.

The Blues did what was required in claiming a bonus-point win over the Hurricanes Poua. The Blues started in a menacing fashion scoring three tries and leading 17-0 in seven minutes. The interplay between forwards and backs was delightful and Aldora Itunu, Ruahei Demant, and Katelyn Vahaakolo were all rewarded 

Following maternity leave tighthead prop Itunu is showcasing the form that saw her win a Rugby World Cup with the Black Ferns in 2017. Hooker Nijiho Nagata was a hive of activity with her most notable contribution a slashing break which assisted in a Katelyn Vahaakolo try. The winger was illusive and threatening. 

The Poua regrouped bravely and closed the deficit to 17-15. A pin-point grubber by Te Rauoriwa Gapper was run down by second-five Monica Tagoai who was typically robust. Halfback Iritana Hohaia was sprightly and clinical. Her try exploding down the short side and bamboozling the last tackler was a moment of real quality.

Disaster struck the Poua just two minutes before halftime. Hooker Cristo Taufua overthrew a defensive lineout and the ball was claimed by Grace Gago who scored for the Blues. Taufua’s blemish was the catalyst for the Blues to regain ascendency.

Vahaakolo scored her second slicing through the slimmest of gaps. Prop Chryss Viliko can be a force of nature and she ploughed over in the 57th minute as the score ballooned to 36-15.

With the scoreboard comfortable the Blues lost focus and discipline. Eloise Blackwell was yellow-carded and Gago followed seven minutes later.

No.8 Layla Sae has been a pillar of strength for Poua and her try bumping of three defenders was an illustration of how and why she’s been so damaging this season.

Openside Niall Williams-Guthrie made a welcome return for the Blues. Fullback Patricia Maliepo injected herself positively and reserve halfback Kahlia Awa added spark. 

The Hurricanes controversial and disappointing season lock ends with a record five defeats and one less victory than achieved in 2023. The growth of lock Sam Taylor, flanker Elinor-Plum King, wing Harmony Kautai, and Sae has been encouraging. 

Blues: 41 (Aldora Itunu 3’, Ruahei Demant 6’, Katelyn Vahaakolo 8’, 49’, Grace Gago 39’, Chryss Viliko 57’, Jaymie Kolose 78’ tries; Krysten Cottrell 2, Patricia Maliepo con) Hurricanes Poua: 29 (Monica Tagoai, Iritana Hohaia, Layla Sae, Harmony Kautai tries’ Hannah King 3 con, pen). HT: 24-15. 

Matatū finished 2024 as they finished 2023 by defeating Chiefs Manawa by two points. The Southerners won’t retain their title but the joy expressed at full-time is an indication of a team with plenty of character despite four consecutive defeats to open the season.

Skipper Alana Bremner was elated telling Sky Sport afterward, “So proud. We’ve been building through the season and getting better and better each week. We won enough big moments today.”

By contrast, Chiefs skipper Kennedy Simon was a picture of frustration. “We have to take these learnings, get tight, and make sure we turn up next week.”

The final will be in Auckland and the Chiefs appear to have lost some steal and efficiency with their typically potent scrum and lineout. The absence of Black Ferns hooker Luka Connor and lock Chelsea Bremner didn’t help matters.

“We trying to find the right combos and making sure we’re doing those extras. It’s a huge part of the game. It’s something we have to work on,” Simon said.

After half an hour the Chiefs have made 95 tackles compared to the hosts 11. Yet it was 12-12. Matatū have more than often made the play in their matches but errors or misfortunes have seen them come unstuck.

Matatū scored their first try following 13 phases. Lock Laura Bayfield was a tower of strength and her initial surge created momentum before centre Amy du Plessis opened a hole for hooker Georgia Ponsonby with a bullet pass.

Ruby Tui charged down the conversion and then stung Matatū with a diagonal, dodging run that saw three defenders evaded and blindside Mia Anderson sprint clear. 

Matatū was unphased by that setback and continued to monopolise possession. Eventually, winger Winnie Palamo broke through for a second Matatū try after Renne Holmes had her clearance charged down. Matatū first-five Liv McGoverne had slid through a demanding grubber for the Black Ferns fullback to handle. 

When the Chiefs scrum did hold firm Simon scored a try supporting a powerful thrust by Grace Steinmetz in midfied. 

Chiefs Manawa took the lead in the 44th minute when Holmes atoned for her ill-timed kick with a perfectly timed incision into the backline. A dozen minutes later Manawa managed the Matatū scrum and Holmes kicked a penalty to make it 20-12.

Matatū might have panicked but there is a greater resilience, patience, and polish about their play. Repeat raids down the short side saw du Plessis score after Grace Brooker had smuggled an offload to her Black Ferns teammate among congestion.  Brooker has been Matatū’s leading carrier and her last three weeks have been immense. 

The winning moment in the 71st minute was sensational. A lonely  McGoverne retrieved a kick on halfway and ran as hard and straight as she could fending off a feeble tackle attempt by Hazel Tubic.

As they had throughout Matatū were able to dictate territory until full-time though they had to resist eight ambitions Chiefs phases at the end. Anderson and  Matatū No.8 Kapio Olsen Baker have done their national selection prospects no harm. Di Hinni was a match for Black Ferns halfback Arihiana Marino-Tauhinu.

Matatū: 22 (Georgia Ponsonby, Winnie Palamo, Amy du Plessis, Liv McGoverne tries; Rosie Kelly con) Chiefs Manawa: 20 (Mia Anderson, Kennedy Simon, Renee Holmes tries; Holmes pen, con). HT: 12-12.

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