The Blues kicked off the 2017 Super Rugby season with an 18-56 win in Melbourne against an abject Rebels, who missed more tackles than they scored points.
Rieko Ioane scored a hat-trick and Ihaia West kicked 18 points as the Blues recorded their first win at AAMI Park.
Ioane made his Test debut for the All Blacks against Italy in Rome last November and is set to be the new star in Super Rugby this season with this break-out performance.
The 19-year-old is formally of the New Zealand’s Sevens team, scored an intercept try, another beating three tackles while selling an impressive dummy, and the third, after his brother Akira picked up a loose ball at the back of a ruck, popping a short pass, gifting him an easy walkover.
Despite the gulf in score and class, there was only 10 points difference at halftime.
It was the also the Blues’ biggest winning score in Australia as they made their way to a bonus-point victory.
Tries from Pauliasi Manu, Matt Duffie, Augustine Pulu and Melani Nanai added to Iaone’s treble.
The Rebels could only muster two first half tries in response, through skipper Nic Stirzaker and Jackson Garden-Bachop (who kicked a conversion). Reece Hodge kicked two penalties, either side of the half.
The 31-3 second half score in favour of the Blues highlighted the chasm in creativity, the breakdown and finishing ability between the teams. The growing number of Rebels missed tackles did not help.
The home side’s kicking game was as wasteful as it was inaccurate, often gifting possession to the visitors. They were losing the physical battle in contact and at the ruck.
Standoff Garden-Bachop missed a string of kicks leading him to be replaced by Hodge on kicking duties before the first forty minutes were complete.
West’s fifth-minute penalty opened the Blues account. But it was the Rebels who shot out the gates. Stirzaker’s opening try and Garden-Bachop’s successful conversion put them 7-3 up inside the first 10 minutes.
The Blues hit back immediately. After a series of pick and goes on the Rebels’ try-line, Blues’ prop Manu went over for his side’s first try to reclaim the lead at 8-7.
West’s missed conversion was the only blight on a near perfect all-round kicking display – in contrast to his opposite number.
Garden-Bachop made up for his poor kicking when, after hitting the post off a penalty attempt, he was up to score a charge-down try after a poor attempted West clearance under pressure.
The conversion was missed but the Rebels were back in the lead at 12-8. It was downhill from thereon out.
Scrumhalf Pulu set up a try to wing Duffie on the right, making the score 15-12 after 25 minutes. It was a lead that the Blues would not relinquish.
Hodge kicked a penalty on 35 minutes but Rieko Iaone’s first try two minutes later gave the Blues a 25-15 lead at the break.
This was as close as the Rebels would get to their opponents before the second half blow-out as sloppy handling would conspire against them as the errors mounted.
The Blues went through the gears in the second half and ran away with the game, scoring four second half tries through Pulu, Nanai and two more from Iaone. The Rebels could only muster a penalty from Hodge.
Speaking afterwards, Blues skipper Jimmy Tupou, who was happy with his team’s attacking display said: “It’s something we’ve been working very hard on during the pre-season, to get those consistent performances and I thought we got that tonight.”
“We weren’t able to match their patience and what they did to us in the end”, said a disappointed Rebels head coach Tony McGahan after the match.
Next week the Rebels travel to Wellington to face Super Rugby champions the Hurricanes while the Blues take on the Chiefs in Hamilton.
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Final score Melbourne Rebels 18 (15) Blues 56 (25)
Tries – Stirzaker, Garden-Bachop
Pen – Hodge (2)
Con – Garden-Bachop
Tries – Manu, Duffie, Ioane (3), Pulu, Nanai
Pen – West (2)
Con – West (6)
Card – Yellow, Ranger
Referee: Angus Gardner
Assistant Ref 1:Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Ref 2:Will Houston
TMO : Ian Smith
1. Cruze Ah-Nau,2. Pat Leafa,3. Laurie Weeks,4. Steve Cummins,5. Lopeti Timani ,6. Jordy Reid,7. Colby Fainga’a,8. Amanaki Mafi^*,9. Nic Stirzaker (Captain),10. Jackson Garden-Bachop^*,11.Jonah Placid,12. Reece Hodge,13.Tom English,14. Jack Maddocks^*,15. Jack Debreczeni
Replacements : 16. Jordan Uelese^*,17. Tom Moloney,18. Tyrel Lomax^*,19. Culum Retallick,20. Jake Schatz*21. Ben Meehan,22. Sione Tuipulotu,23.Ben Volavola
^Super Rugby debut
Pauliasi Manu, Matt Moulds, Sione Mafileo, Jimmy Tupou, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Steven Luatua, Blake Gibson, Akira Ioane; Augustine Pulu, Ihaia West, Melani Nanai, Piers Francis, Rieko Ioane, Matt Duffie, Michael Collins.
Replacements: Hame Faiva, Sam Prattley, Charlie Faumuina, Scott Scrafton,Murphy Taramai, Sam Nock, George Moala, Rene Ranger.