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Blues Women close gap at top of SR Aupiki

Updated: Apr 5

The Super Rugby Aupiki final will be contested between Chiefs Manawa and the Blues in two weeks.

Whether the decider is hosted in Auckland or Hamilton is still to be determined after the Blues beat the Manawa for the first time 40-26 on Saturday to close the gap to a solitary point in the standings.

Meanwhile, the Matatū earned their first victory of the season on Friday night, defeating Hurricanes Poua 37-17 in Christchurch.

Blues captain Maia Roos emphasised post-game that the Blues were determined to prove they had the best forward pack in the competition. The Blues achieved that lofty ambition emphatically.

The Chiefs lineout was a muddle as the Blues boldly and vigorously contested almost everything. After a stoic start, the Manawa scrum too was dispatched into retreat.

The collective effort of the Blues tight-five - Chryss Viliko, Grace Gago, Aldora Itunu, Eloise Blackwell, and Maama Vaipulu - might have bookmakers readjusting their odds for the final in a fortnight.

Blues women's rugby
The Blues women defeated the Chiefs Manawa for the first time. PHOTO: SUPER RUGBY NZ

The Blues set the tone early with forceful carries and direct attack. The Manawa defence eventually wilted after a dozen minutes when Itunu became a smiling steamroller. The Manawa responded with a concerted passage of phases. A scrum followed and a glorious skip pass by Kiriana Nolan located an unmarked Ruby Tui.

The Blues caught lightning in a bottle from the 27th minute to the 32nd minute, scoring three tries as the score mushroomed to 28-7.

Gago rode the crest of a wave from a lineout drive. At the restart, Liana Mikaele Tu’u and Vaipulu stampeded from the Blues 22 to the Manawa red zone.

An overlap emerged and the ball was headed to the right wing of Katelyn Vahaakolo until the palms of Renee Holmes spoiled a certain try. Upon review, a penalty try was awarded with no defender outside Holmes, who was dismissed to the sin-bin for 10 minutes.

Soon after, Grace Steinmetz threw a pass that was intercepted by Sylvia Brunt, with the Blues centre sprinting 40 metres into the embrace of her delirious teammates stretching behind the in-goal area.

The Manawa regained some equilibrium before the break. Blues penalties gifted the Manawa a lineout five metres out. The result? An obligatory try for the prolific Luka Connor.

In the 48th minute, Tui split the Blues open. Brunt rushed across and flattened the charismatic Black Fern. Tui’s game was over while Brunt had a 10-minute break for shoulder-on-head contact.

The Manawa were unable to exploit the numerical advantage. In the 55th minute, Vahaakolo cut down the short side to buy the Blues some breathing room. A thumping kick by Patricia Maliepo saw the ball sit idly five metres short of the Manawa line.

A hesitant Mererangi Paul went roaming but could not escape the grasp of a tigerish Jaymie Kolose. Paul threw an unsighted, reverse pass to Ross and the Blues led 33-14.

The Manawa bench again added impact with Krystal Murray to the fore, while Chelsea Alley celebrated her 100th first-class game with a try.

The Matātu defeated the Poua for the first time in Super Rugby Aupiki and have jumped ahead of Poua in the standings with a round to play.

Matātu captain Alana Bremner celebrated her 100th first-class match. With five Farah Palmer Cup Premierships, 19 defences of the JJ Stewart Trophy, an Aupiki crown, and a Women's Rugby World Cup on her resume a win was the only acceptable way to mark Bremner’s milestone.

The Poua has been fiercely competitive in the first half of matches this season and that trend reversed for the visitors, turning with a 22-0 deficit at the break. Poua won the last 40 minutes 17-15.

Rosie Kelly opened the scoring after a dozen minutes. Wing Cheyelle Robins-Reti made a slashing break sneaking behind two decoy runners. Martha Mataele continued the momentum near the 22 before a deft inside pass put the fullback over.

Lucy Jenkins for Matatu in Super Rugby Aupiki
Lucy Jenkins scored a double for the Matatu against the Hurricanes Poua. PHOTO: SUPER RUGBY NZ

Five minutes later, Mataele injected herself again, this time bursting vibrantly from a scrum before linking with centre Amy du Plessis, who created space for second-five Grace Brooker.

Georgia Ponsonby scored from a perfectly executed lineout drive after 28 minutes.

The Poua enjoyed nearly two-thirds of possession and three-quarters of territory in the first half but sloppy ball retention was a curse.

In the 39th minute, the Matatū broke out from their own 22, and Poua centre Shakira Baker was sent off after her shoulder appeared to strike rival halfback Maia Joseph’s throat. It was a desperate attempt at a save by Baker that went horribly wrong. She was shown her red card while receiving medical treatment.

Things went from bad to worse for Poua when Ponsonby scored a second try from the subsequent penalty and lineout drive.

The Poua were inspired after the break. No 8 Layla Sae burst from the back of a scrum, steamrolled Kendra Reynolds, and surged 45 metres to score.

The Poua thwarted five minutes of persistent attack before Sae was box office again. She charged another 45 metres only to be stopped by Reynolds this time. A gut-busting 19 phases followed before a Laura Bayfield tackle and Brooker turnover forced a penalty.

Brooker received the ball on the crash from the following lineout and another penetrating run and quick recycle allowed Mataele to build up some speed. The last two Hurricanes tacklers might as well have been tenpins.

Two bullying runs in an eight-phase attack from prop Moomooga Palu allowed Ponsonby to roam wide and throw a cracking cut-out pass to Lucky Jenkins, who later scored in the 72nd minute when she was the first onto a Poua spill from a grubber.

The Matatū made 166 tackles compared with Poua's 79. Each side made 14 line breaks but the Hurricanes conceded 22 turnovers. Sam Taylor, Elinor Plum-King, Fai Laikong and Rangimarie Sturmey from the bench held their heads up high for the Poua.

Blues 40 (Aldora Itunu, Grace Gago, penalty try, Sylvia Brunt, Maia Ross, Cheyenne Tuli-Fale tries; Krysten Cottrell 4 con) Chiefs Manawa 26 (Ruby Tui, Luka Connor, Krystal Murray, Chelsea Semple tries; Renee Holmes con). HT: 28-14

Matatū 37 (Rosie Kelly, Grace Brooker, Georgia Ponsonby 2, Lucy Jenkins 2, Martha Mataele tries; Liz McGoverne con) Hurricanes Poua 17 (Layla Sae, Monica Tagoai, Rangimarie Sturmey tries; Isabella Waterman con). HT: 22-0


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