The Chiefs’ five-match unbeaten run is over. Not that it matters in the context of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season, or was unexpected after they made 21 changes ahead of next week’s final.
Handing out six debuts and recalling veteran Liam Messam, the Chiefs still managed to push the Blues at Eden Park.
Safely locked in next week’s final against the Crusaders in Christchurch, the Chiefs rested influential figures including All Blacks Damian McKenzie, Anton Lienert-Brown and Brad Weber.
Despite those heavy-hitting absentees the Chiefs second-stringers more than held their own. After trailing 14-9 at halftime, the Chiefs drew level at 19-19 following a 62nd minute Shaun Stevenson try and sideline conversion from Bryn Gatland.
Scramble defence from the Chiefs in the final quarter epitomised the attitude they have embraced in turning around their season over the past five weeks to surge into the final.
But they were never expected to win this match. The only surprise is it took the Blues so long to put the game beyond doubt.
Otere Black eventually edged the Blues in front with a penalty; Hoskins Sotutu crashed over with six minutes remaining to seal victory, and AJ Lam finished the job with two late tries – his first for the Blues – to blow out the scoreline. Six-tries-to-one is not a fair reflection.
After an underwhelming season the Blues will claim some solace, perhaps, from finishing their Aotearoa campaign with a 50 per cent record – four wins from eight attempts. But this dead-rubber match will not live long in anyone’s memory, and hardly inspires confidence the Blues are about to turn a corner anytime soon.
Playing some weaker Australian opponents – look no further than the Waratahs – when the transtasman competition gets underway in two weeks might help results, but the Blues have been largely disjointed and disappointing for six weeks and they need a serious review to identify improvements in order to regain their rhythm.
Injuries to captain Patrick Tuipulotu and others haven’t helped but, given their offseason recruitment drive lured All Blacks front-rower Nepo Laulala, Samoan prop James Lay and young Canterbury lock Sam Darry, much more was expected.
The highlight for the Blues came midway through the second half when Zarn Sullivan, on debut at fullback, ghosted onto a wide ball from Black to score his side’s third try and confirm his obvious potential, with his big left boot also proving valuable on exit plays.
Otherwise, though, this was a rather flat end to the Blues’ New Zealand derby season.
In a first half that failed to get going amid constant stoppages for television match official reviews the Chiefs had two tries to Zarn’s older brother, Bailyn, and prop Ollie Norris scrubbed out, but they certainly didn’t resemble a B team that had been thrown together.
Bailyn Sullivan, playing his first game for the Chiefs since 2019, made several breaks from the left wing in the first spell and No 8 Pita Gus Sowakula was also prominent with ball in hand.
Gatland kept the visitors in touch with four penalties but under the weight of constant pressure the Chiefs folded in the final 10 minutes.
The reality, though, is this result did not matter – certainly not for the Chiefs who now get another shot at the Super Rugby title.
Blues 39 (AJ Lam 2, Kurt Eklund, Adrian Choat, Zarn Sullivan, Hoskins Sotutu tries; Otere Black 3 cons, pen)
Chiefs 19 (Shaun Stevenson try; Bryn Gatland con, 4 pens)
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