The Blues roared their stuttering Vodacom Super Rugby campaign back to life, playing some enterprising rugby to down a lame Reds side 44-14 in Auckland on Friday.
The difference between the sides was clear as the home team looked way more focused, enthusiastic and ready for action while the Reds looked listless and out of sorts for most of the match, confirming their position at the bottom of the Australian Super Rugby conference.
Considering it was a game to mark the 100th match for Reds playmaker Quade Cooper, you would have expected more of an effort from his teammates.
But they were swamped, as the Blues slow-poison approach kicked in after the half hour, taking a 20-0 lead into the break and then pulling away after being given a man-advantage by the Reds with James Slipper off the field for a spear tackle.
The 10 minutes either side of the halftime whistle were the killer, and the Blues took full advantage of it to get their four-try bonus point shortly after halftime and put the Reds away.
To be honest, Cooper didn’t look like much of a gamechanger either. He missed his opening two kicks and was not allowed to dictate the game on a level that he would have liked. Couple that with his team being denied a try in the first 15 minutes, when Liam Gill was adjudged to not have released the ball on the ground before getting up and charging forward, and it was clear it wasn’t going to the Brisbane side’s day.
In contrast dead shot Simon Hickey started the game off well, slotting two quick penalties to put his side 6-0 up in the opening salvos.
Ma’a Nonu’s form in recent weeks has been simply sublime. This was evidenced in the first try, as he saw space, flipped a long pass to Lolagi Visinia, with the winger using the space given, before offloading a beautiful ball to Jackson Willison, who scored.
Willison pulled his hamstring in the process, but it didn’t hamper the Blues at all, as Slipper’s yellow card gave them a 14-point boost as they took advantage of the indiscretion to pull clear of the Reds.
Visinia got his name on the scoreboard a minute before halftime thanks to the perfect grubber from Nonu, with the pacy winger diving onto it and getting the thumbs up from the TMO in the process.
Nonu made another break shortly after halftime, beating James Horwill on the outside before putting scrumhalf Bryn Hall over for his team’s third try. When Tom Donnelly went over on 51 minutes, the bonus point was theirs and the match as good as over with a half hour to play.
Tony Woodcock earned himself a yellow for a punch on the ground, and gave the Reds some respite, with Greg Holmes and James Horwill both scoring tries to get them into double figures.
But the Blues would have the last say with debutant Ihaia West grabbing a try shortly before the end to stretch the scoreline once again.
Blues - Tries: Jackson Willison, Lolagi Visinia, Bryn Hall, Tom Donnelly, Ihaia West. Conversion: Simon Hickey (4), Ihaia West . Penalties: Hickey (2).
Reds - Tries: Ben Daley, James Horwill. Conversions: Quade Cooper (2).