The Blues mixed dazzling attacking rugby with lacklustre defence as they held out the Rebels to win 36-32 at Eden Park tonight.
Barnstorming winger Frank Halai scored a hat-trick while Francis Saili also bagged a brace of tries as the Blues’ backs cut the ragged Rebels to ribbons.
But as superb as their attacking flair was, the Blues’ defence left much to be desired as they surrendered a commanding 29-10 halftime lead and only just held on to defeat the Rebels.
Head coach Sir John Kirwan had made five changes to the starting XV for this evening’s game, evoking memories of his similar move against the Bulls where his side went down 21-28.
But any concerns the 14,700 fans that came along to Eden Park may have had about a repeat were soon allayed as the Blues had the four try bonus point in the bag within 26 minutes.
A revelation in his debut Super Rugby season, Halai was at his rampaging best this evening and bagged the first of his three tries after just nine minutes.
However the Rebels hit straight back from the re-start after Ali Williams dropped the ball, Mitch Inman getting on the outside of Chris Noakes to score.
Francis Saili was back in his favoured position of second five-eighths, partnering the mercurial Rene Ranger in the midfield, and the duo were in devastating form.
When Ranger made a break and offloaded inside, Saili hacked the ball ahead and showed a brilliant turn of pace to chase and regather it just before the line to score.
Not one to be left out of the action, Charles Piutau injected himself into the game to superb effect, breaking two tackles and firing out a wide pass to Halai who made a mockery of his opposite number Cooper Vuna to score.
Much had been made of star Rebels playmaker James O’Connor’s impressive form but he lasted less than half an hour, leaving the field after Ranger absolutely smashed him over.
After discarding of O’Connor, Ranger put in a deft grubber and forced the Rebels back into their dead ball for a five metre attacking scrum, and from there Saili ran a great line to crash over the whitewash for his second try of the evening.
However the Blues’ defence left much to be desired at times as Scott Higginbotham palmed off Ali Williams and ran away to score a soft try to the visitors.
Halai’s third try of the evening gave the Blues a comfortable 29-10 lead at the break, but the home side came out flat in the second stanza as the Rebels clawed their way into the game on the back of some disappointing Blues defence.
Second five-eighths Lachlan Mitchell scored for the visitors from a five metre scrum after prop Laurie Weeks was held up over the line, and his midfield partner Mitch Inman scored a similar try 15 minutes later to close up the scores to 29-22.
After setting up a number of tries, Rene Ranger scored the match clinching try nine minutes from fulltime after picking the ball from the base of the ruck and running 20 metres.
However the Rebels had the final say, scoring a consolation try on fulltime through Jason Woodward to bring the score to 36-32.
The Blues’ next assignment is against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.