The Blues scored the second upset of an already tense final Vodacom Super Rugby weekend, beating the Brumbies 30-16 in a cold and wet Canberra on Saturday.
After the Hurricanes' improbable beating of the Chiefs on Friday, the Blues finally found their rhythm in the final game of the season to set the cat among the pigeons.
It was a result that Jake White’s Brumbies’ sorely could afford. As things currently stand, if the Reds achieve a bonus point win in their final game against the Waratahs later on Saturday, they could leapfrog the Aussie pace-setters and see White’s team miss out on the playoffs after all, provided there were also wins by the Sharks and Bulls respectively.
The cruel nature of the flawed conference system would mean that the Reds, by virtue of one more victory, would bypass them and condemn White’s side to watching the playoffs on television next week.
That said, there will be those who will point out that such a poor performance against the Blues hardly warrants a playoff place, especially after the visitors arrived without their beleaguered coach Pat Lam, who had to stay behind in Auckland to interview for his own job.
Lam arrived in time to see his side score three first-half tries, and then show enough grit and effort to beat a Brumbies side that looked as poor as the atmosphere in the crowd, tepid and uninspiring, but who hung in there until the end.
Their effort was eventually not good enough, as they failed to make their first-time tackles, giving the big Blues runners momentum and front-foot ball throughout the match.
It was apparent that the upset was on the cards from the word go, as the Blues looked confident and took their more illustrious opposition on with every opportunity they had.
After an early missed penalty by Piri Weepu, it wasn’t long before the Blues got themselves onto the scoreboard, as big lock Liaki Moli crashed over from close range to open the scoring.
Five minutes later flank Daniel Braid made the most of a defensive error by the Brumbies, who covered the other attackers and left the flank to have a go himself, and the All Black made the most of the opportunity in forcing his way over in the corner.
A shell-shocked Brumbies side finally made it onto the board in the 20th minute when Zac Holmes slotted a penalty, but it was shortly afterwards when winger Henry Speight showed his brilliance in scoring an exceptional try.
Speight got the ball on the wing with no space to move, danced his way through two tackles, then stepped inside and out two more to run in untouched in a brief moment of light for the home side.
But as the rain bucketed down, things didn’t go better for White’s team, even though Holmes slotted another penalty to bring them within one point of the Blues.
Try as they might, the Brumbies had no answer to some of the Blues big runners, including a breakout by Charlie Piutau, who found space and led his team into the Brumbies half, before the ball went wide for Hayden Parkes to score in the corner.
In the second half, the Brumbies looked to be playing more for the bonus point they needed for safety than to try and get a victory and after one miss, fullback Jesse Mogg’s boot got them within seven.
The Blues were quick to rectify matters however, as two more Weepu kicks gave them the advantage again before Holmes brought one back.
There was no real spark in the Brumbies attack as the game wore down, and it wasn’t a surprise that the Blues had the final say in the game, as Michael Hobbs slotted the penalty to settle the affair.
White’s men may have made strides this season but the poor performance at home in their final game may be their undoing in a competition that gives no favours.
Brumbies – Try: Henry Speight. Conversion: Zack Holmes. Penalty: Holmes, Jesse Mogg.
Blues – Tries: Liaki Moli, Daniel Braid, Hadleigh Parkes. Conversions: Piri Weepu (3). Penaties: Weepu (2), Michael Hobbs.