VIDEO: Blues return to top spot after edging willing Reds
SUPER RUGBY TRANS-TASMAN REPORT: The Blues reclaimed the top spot on the standings, just hours after conceding it to their compatriots, the Crusaders.
The Auckland franchise outscored a willing Reds team by four tries to three to win an entertaining fixture in Brisbane 31-24.
It saw the Blues move to first place on 19 points (four wins and three bonus points), ahead of the Crusaders (18, four wins), Hurricanes (15 points – three wins) and Highlanders (13 – three wins).
The Hurricanes and Highlanders still have to play their Round Four matches.
“We knew it was going to be tough and physical but we were happy with that,” Blues captain Patrick Tuipulotu said.
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For the Reds, it was a horrible day of injuries.
Suliasi Vunivalu hobbled off with a hamstring injury as an already undermanned Reds fell to the Blues.
Hunting a Test debut next month, NRL convert Vunivalu limped off just a month after returning from another hamstring complaint in his maiden Rugby Union season.
The Reds were already without late omissions James O’Connor (neck) and fullback Bryce Hegarty (hamstring), but had every chance to pinch rare back-to-back wins over New Zealand opponents.
Line-out woes cost them – they lost four in the second half – while the Blues scored twice while yellow-carded Brandon Paenga-Amosa was off the field in the first half.
The in-form hooker also scored in his final home game for the Reds before a move to France next season.
But their makeshift spine, featuring 19-year-old debutant Mac Grealy at fullback and Hamish Stewart in his first game at flyhalf in almost three years, couldn’t find a way past the undefeated Blues.
Harry Wilson scored off a short inside ball from a heavily-involved Hunter Paisami, the pair standouts as the Reds looked to back up last week’s breakthrough win over the Chiefs.
But a shot at their first back-to-back wins over New Zealand sides since 2013 came undone when Wilson opted to kick instead of a pass to an unmarked Vunivalu.
The ball skewed out and Vunivalu pulled up sore.
Fellow wing Filipo Daugunu then nailed a late penalty but the Reds were unable to score after the buzzer to tie it up.
Blues skipper Patrick Tuipulotu and scrumhalf Finlay Christie scored second-half tries that followed first-half five-pointers to Dalton Papalii and Mark Telea.
Man of the match: Reds scrumhalf Tate McDermott was inventive and energetic. Hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa, despite his yellow card, was good value – with plenty of positive carries, getting his metres almost into triple figures. Other productive Reds forwards included Liam Wright, Taniela Tupou and Harry Wilson. The Blues’ most productive back was Mark Telea. Then there were the big boys up front – the Ioane brothers Rieko and Akira Ioane, along with loose forward Dalton Papalii and Tom Robinson. Our award goes to Blues captain and lock Patrick Tuipulotu – who scored a try, taking his carries into double figures, making plenty of metres and 10 tackles.
For the Reds
Tries: Wilson, Paenga-Amosa, Daugunu
Cons: Henry 3
For the Blues
Tries: Papalii, Telea, Tuipulotu, Christie
Cons: Black 4
Yellow card: Brandon Paenga-Amosa (Reds, 25 – cynical foul, collapsing maul illegally)
Reds: 15 Mac Grealy, 14 Suliasi Vunivalu, 13 Hunter Paisami, 12 Isaac Henry, 11 Filipo Daugunu, 10 Hamish Stewart, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Liam Wright (captain), 6 Angus Scott-Young, 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Ryan Smith, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Feao Fotuaika.
Replacements: 16 Josh Nasser, 17 Dane Zander, 18 Zane Nonggorr, 19 Angus Blyth, 20 Sam Wallis, 21 Moses Sorovi, 22 Joshua Flook, 23 Ilaisa Droasese.
Blues: 15 Zarn Sullivan, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Otere Black, 9 Finlay Christie, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Tom Robinson, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu (captain), 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Kurt Eklund, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Replacements: 16 Soane Vikena, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jacob Pierce, 20 Hoskins Sotutu, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 AJ Lam.
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant referees: Nic Berry, Jordan way
TMO: Brett Cronan