The Blues opened their pre-season account with a convincing 36-22 victory over the Hurricanes on Saturday.
Played in front of a boisterous 6000 strong crowd in Whangarei, the Blues outscored the visitors by six tries to one, with only the boot of Beauden Barrett keeping the Hurricanes in the hunt with four penalties and a conversion.
New Zealand Player of the Year Jerome Kaino captained the side in Keven Mealamu’s absence and he picked up where he left off during the World Cup, turning in an immensely physical performance.
Playing number eight rather than his usual position of blindside flanker, Kaino put in a few early bone-crunching tackles before crashing over for the first try of the afternoon from a rolling maul after just six minutes.
Rookie George Moala showed he will be one to keep a close eye on this season. A strong and incredibly powerful player, Moala bashed his way through two defenders to score after 16 minutes.
Leading 12-0 at the end of the first quarter, Dan Kirkpatrick narrowed the deficit for the Hurricanes with a penalty kick, but a Chris Lowrey intercept try followed by another five pointer to Anthony Boric saw the Blues race out to a 26-3 halftime lead.
However with an almost entirely different team taking the field in the second half, the Blues lost their momentum and allowed the Hurricanes to claw their way back into contention.
The men from the capital seemed to have more interest in winning the match rather than trying different things during the pre-season encounter as Beauden Barrett, replacing Dan Kirkpatrick at first five-eighths, slotted two penalty goals.
A runaway try to wing Julian Savea followed by a conversion and another penalty kick saw the Hurricanes close the gap to just 26-22 at the end of the third quarter, however the Blues rallied in the final quarter to close out the match.
Sherwin Stowers looked lively and hungry for work in the second half and finished off a movement to score in the corner, before Hadleigh Parkes made a lovely break and passed inside to local favourite Dan Pryor who dived over the line to a huge cheer from the Northland faithful.
Pat Lam will be pleased with the effort his team showed during the Blues’ first pre-season outing, particularly the defence which at times suffocated the Hurricanes, however discipline will surely be a focal point in the post-match review as numerous infringements kept the visitors in the game.
Rudi Wulf was a standout at fullback while Wider Training Group players James Parsons, Wayne Ngaluafe and Dan Pryor certainly showed they are up to this level of rugby.
The Blues now have a couple of days off before heading to camp in Whangaparoa. Their next pre-season game is against the Melbourne Rebels in Melbourne on Saturday.
Blues 36 (Jerome Kaino, George Moala, Chris Lowrey, Anthony Boric, Sherwin Stowers, Dan Pryor tries; Michael Hobbs 3 con)
Hurricanes 22 (Julian Savea try; Daniel Kirkpatrick pen, Beauden Barrett 4 pen, con)