The Blues beat the Reds 34-29 in an entertaining nine-try match at Apia Park in Samoa after Stephen Perofeta’s late try, sealed the come-from-behind victory.
This was a historic first Super Rugby match for the Pacific island nation and the game did not disappoint.
The match was a see-sawing affair, with the Blues dominant in the first-half, leading by eight at the break.
However, the Reds turned around the first-half deficit and led by two with five minutes to play after enjoying over 80 percent possession, entering the last quarter.
But they could not hold on, despite Taniela Tupou’s second try of the game, cancelling out Gerard Cowley-Tuioti’s 62nd-minute score, which gave the Reds a 27-29 lead with time ticking down in the South Pacific.
The Blues raced to a 12-0 lead, inside seven minutes after tries by Rene Ranger and Rieko Ioane.
Tana Umaga’s team enjoyed much of the territory and possession as the Reds struggled with kick-offs and restarts, one of which cost them a try.
The Reds suffered an early injury blow when captain Samu Kerevi left the field with an ankle injury.
Jake McIntyre came on and moved to fullback and Karmichael Hunt took over at outside-centre, in place of his skipper.
Tupou crashed over on 15 minutes to get his team back in the game. The Queensland side had already lost a tighthead and they were struggling with most of their set pieces – except the lineout.
The tighthead prop scored the first of two tries from the Australian side’s driving maul, taking James Tuttle’s pass before smashing his way over the whitewash.
Quade Cooper missed the simple conversion, but the tourists were on the scoreboard at 12-5.
On the half-hour, it was the Blues turn to go to the driving maul. The forwards split the maul and powered over the try line.
The Reds defenders took out the pod with Cowley-Tuioti after the lock collected the lineout throw, leaving Kara Pryor with a clear run at the try-line.
Piers Francis missed his second conversion attempt as the crowd favourites extended their lead to 17-5.
Four minutes later, the Reds scored from a driving maul, fashioned very much in the mould of Pryor’s try. Hooker Andrew Ready, playing the role Pryor, crashed over from close range.
Cooper made sure of his kick this time, keeping his team within touching distance. Francis kicked a late penalty to give his team a two-score halftime cushion.
If the first stanza was mostly the Kiwis’, the first quarter of the second, was all the Aussies’.
They enjoyed an extraordinary amount of territory and possession as they scored 10 unanswered points, to take the lead for the first time in the game at 20-22.
Cooper’s 46th-minute penalty, substitute Adam Korczyk’s try and another conversion from the standoff, saw the Reds take control.
As with all New Zealand sides, the final 20 minutes is where they win most of their games. This was no different.
A wonderful team try by the Blues was rounded off by Cowley-Tuioti – who was immense. Some deft handling on the touchline sees the Blues surge up the field.
Some deft handling on the touchline by the Blues, saw them surge up the field. Sam Nock, at scrumhalf, continued the flowing team move into the 22, looked for support and found the lock on his inside, putting him away for the score.
Perofeta had taken over kicking duties, and his first conversion, gave the Blues the lead for the second time, making it 27-22.
Nick Stiles’ men hit back immediately, tieing the game at 27-all when Tupou scored his second. It all came from a regathered charged down kick. The Reds set up some quick ball, went through the phases and the tighthead had a brace.
Cooper’s conversion gave his team another deserved lead, but it could not last and did not last.
With time ticking down in Apia, the Blues conjured some magic. Akira Ioane created the space with a break near the sideline.
The No 8 passed to Melani Nanai, who raced towards the try-line. The fullback sidestepped Eto Nabuli, cut inside, but was stopped short by Tuttle’s last ditch tackle.
However, they recycled the ball quickly and Perofeta scored his first try in Super Rugby, from close range, to settle the contest and end the Reds’ slim playoff hopes.
Final Score: Blues 34 (20) Reds 29 (12)
Tries – Ranger, R. Ioane, Pryor, Cowley-Tuioti, Perofeta
Pen – Francis
Con – Francis, Perofeta (2)
Tries – T. Tupou (2), Ready, Korczyk
Pen – Cooper
Con – Cooper (2)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Ref 1: Will Houston
Assistant Ref 2: Angus Mabey
TMO: Shane McDermott
15 Melani Nanai,14 Declan O’Donnell, 13 Rene Ranger, 12 Tinoai Faiane, 11 Rieko Ioane, 10 Piers Francis, 9 Sam Nock, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 James Parsons (captain), 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Stephen Perofeta, 23 Jordan Trainor.
15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Kuridrani, 13 Samu Kerevi (captain), 12 Duncan Paia’aua, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 James Tuttle, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 George Smith, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Lukhan Tui, 4 Izack Rodda, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Andrew Ready, 1 Sef Fa’agase.
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Kirwan Sanday, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Kane Douglas, 20 Adam Korczyk, 21 Caleb Timu, 22 Nick Frisby, 23 Jake McIntyre.