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DStv Channel 403 Wednesday, 04 October 2023

Blues power past Waratahs to reach Super Rugby semi-finals

Mark Telea chalked up his 12th Super Rugby Pacific try this season as the Auckland Blues powered past the New South Wales Waratahs for a 41-12 win ...
Finlay Christie scored the Auckland Blues' first try in the win over the New South Wales Waratahs

WELLINGTON - Mark Telea chalked up his 12th Super Rugby Pacific try this season as the Auckland Blues powered past the New South Wales Waratahs for a 41-12 win in the quarter-finals on Friday.

Telea strolled over for the hosts' fifth and final try at Eden Park to equal Doug Howlett's record of 12 tries in a Super Rugby season for the Blues back in 2003. 

Having also scored four tries in one game last month, Telea is a sure bet when the All Blacks name their squad on June 18 for The Rugby Championship.

The Blues dominated despite a sloppy start, but will only discover their opponents in the last four after this weekend's other quarter-finals.

Defending champions the Canterbury Crusaders host the Fijian Drua, while the Waikato Chiefs are home to the Queensland Reds and the ACT Brumbies take on the Wellington Hurricanes in the remaining quarter-finals on Saturday.

"Right at the beginning, we were a bit too frantic and it was costing us," admitted Blues captain Dalton Papali'i.

"We just had to go back to our basics.

"I'm just proud of the boys' efforts. There's still work to be done but I'm pretty happy with that performance."

The away defeat was a low-key final appearance for Australia international Michael Hooper, who has told the Waratahs he won't play for them next season.

The Waratahs' only previous win at Eden Park was back in 2009, but the visitors took advantage of a slow start by the Blues to take an early 7-0 lead.

Waratahs centre Izaia Perese snapped up a loose ball and fed lock Ned Hanigan, who charged over for a converted try.

It shocked the Blues into action.

The hosts went on to rack up five converted tries without reply, two of which were claimed in the first half by scrum-half Finlay Christie and prop Nepo Laulala.

After Beauden Barrett landed a penalty, there was little on when Telea ran the ball from deep.

The ball was shipped through the hands of centres Bryce Heem and Rieko Ioane before Christie charged over.

Barrett landed the conversion, but only Christie's desperate cover tackle dislodged the ball in the arms of Waratahs winger Dylan Pietsch, who was denied a try in the corner. 

Blues winger AJ Lam was held up over the line, but the hosts still went into half-time 17-7 up after Laulala barged his way over for a try as Barrett added the conversion.

After the break, Blues hooker Ricky Riccitelli capped a strong game by crashing over from the back of a maul as the hosts pulled away with a third converted try to open a 24-7 lead.

The Waratahs' semi-finals hopes were extinguished as the Blues forwards battered the line before the ball was sent long for Zarn Sullivan to slide over.

Telea scored the easiest try of the night when he scooped up a dropped pass to sprint away 45 metres to score untouched in making it 38-7.

Pietsch grabbed the Waratahs' second try with time running out before Harry Plummer stroked over a late penalty for the Blues.

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