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Clarke hat-trick powers Blues to title glory

Clarke hat-trick powers Blues to title glory

All BlacksJune 23, 2024

Twenty-one years of frustration, pain and angst were blasted away by a Blues forward pack that crushed Chiefs hopes with a 41–10 win in Saturday's DHL Super Rugby Final at Eden Park.

Scoring five tries to one and backed up by a 100 per cent goal-kicking effort by first five-eighths Harry Plummer, the Chiefs were left stunned by a Blues effort that deserved comparison with their early Super Rugby-winning championship sides.

Wing Caleb Clarke may have scored three tries, but it was on the back of the forward effort, and his third took a huge pass across the goalline from halfback Finlay Christie to reward more power forward driving play.

Relentless Blues forward power sucked the life out of the Chiefs and pressured them into undisciplined play that resulted in three warnings being issued and resulting in the loss of prop George Dyer to a yellow card early in the second half.

It was a consummate wet weather performance for a patient crowd of 43,000 who had waited so long to bask in their side's success.

Rain threatened to dampen the atmosphere, but the home team's play was ample compensation as the Blues offered them barely a chance. It was all down to the Blues efficiency and intent whenever in the Chiefs 22m area.

It was enough to give them a 20-3 lead to the break, but for two missed opportunities, having done their lead-up work, it could have been higher. Twice, the Chiefs were given warnings for infringements close to the line, and early in the second half, they received another.

That set up a Blues scrum that saw Clarke cross for his second try off a blindside move that extended the lead to 27-3 after 51 minutes.

Skipper Patrick Tuipulotu was outstanding with the ball in hand, showing no worries associated with his medial ligament scare. He was closely followed in effort by Sam Darry, while hooker Ricky Riccitelli, one of the side's unsung heroes in the support play at rucks, was consistently part of the momentum building.

Your 2024 #SuperRugbyPacific Champions 🏆#BLUvCHI pic.twitter.com/IrGCQrnFgf

— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) June 22, 2024

Flanker Akira Ioane thrived in the tight quarter play and was classy in placing a try-scoring pass to Clarke for his first try. No8 Hoskins Sotutu was powerful in getting across the advantage line and allowed rival Wallace Sititi no room to influence the game as in recent appearances.

By comparison, when getting into the Blues' 22m area, the Chiefs could not penetrate, and the Blues conceded a penalty but once. 

The Chiefs also made uncharacteristic errors. Wing Etene Nanai-Seturo put a kick directly into touch when acres of space were available, while fullback Shaun Stevenson dropped one long kick under no pressure.

It was 65 minutes before the Chiefs could gain an advantage in the Blues 22, and it was replacement loose forward Simon Parker who scored. The game had gone by then, and both sides were giving their substitutes a taste of finals action.

But the Blues were undeterred. They charged back into the 22, and from yet another goalline ruck, second five-eighth AJ Lam crossed in the 73rd minute.

Attempting to make a fast start from the game's kick-off, the Chiefs were unable to break the Blues' defence. When first five-eighths Damian McKenzie was caught and a turnover was conceded, the Blues worked the ball to Clarke, who went out and then back in to make a significant breach.

That gave the Blues momentum into the 22m area, and Akira Ioane marked his final game for the side with a try from a goalline ruck.

Plummer and McKenzie exchanged penalty goals. From the restart, which the Blues botched before tidying, skipper and Tuipulotu charged ahead with a strong run. The Blues swept into support, and the ball was again carried into the Chiefs' 22m area. 

Then, as pick-and-goes carried play to the left flank, centre Rieko Ioane headed to the sideline and, in the tackle, transferred the ball back to Akira, who, in the act of being forced over the line, slipped the ball to Clarke to score in the 20th minute.

Scorers: Blues 41 (Akira Ioane, Caleb Clarke 3, A J Lam tries; Harry Plummer 5 con, 2 pen) Chiefs 10 (Simon Parker tries; Damian McKenzie con, pen). HT: 20-3

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THE 21-YEAR WAIT IS OVER FOR THE BLUES 🤩 pic.twitter.com/KhXqqRvaJu

— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) June 22, 2024

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