THE NSW WARATAHS slumped to a 34-28 loss against the Blues in Auckland this morning, but maintain a slim chance of reaching the finals after earning a consolation bonus point.
The Tahs were outscored five tries to four as the Blues staunchly defended their lead, bouncing back whenever the Sydney side looked like reeling them in.
NSW entered the match level with the ACT Brumbies on 39 points at the top of the Australian conference and desperate to claw ahead of their rivals.
The Australian conference winner will make the playoffs but the season will be over for the runner-up, with final placings decided when the Brumbies play the Western Force tomorrow. 2014 champions NSW will need a massive favour from the Force.
“You never know, stranger things have happened… we’ll wait and see,” captain Michael Hooper said.
The result means the Blues, who are rebuilding under coach Tana Umaga, have won 14 of their last 16 matches against Australian Super Rugby sides at Eden Park. They also defeated the Brumbies last week, meaning the bottom placed New Zealand side has defeated the top two Australian sides in the past fortnight.
Wet conditions hampered the Waratahs’ preferred running rugby style and they initially struggled with turnovers and knock-ons but built pressure through the pack.
In a game of three penalty tries, it was the Kiwi side who displayed the greater ability to use space and centre Piers Francis swung the game the Blues’ way with a terrific jinking run through traffic in the right corner to put the hosts 19 – 14 ahead early in the second half (watch it from the 1.30 mark in the video above).
A penalty extended the Blues’ lead to 22-14 and they looked like running away with the game before Israel Folau burst into open space for the Waratahs third try. The tit-for-tat scoring continued with Malani Nanai adding a fourth for the Blues, then Angus Ta’avao doing the same for the Waratahs.
George Moala finally sealed it for the Blues in the 76th minute after the Waratahs’ defence was stretched by a line-out drive.
The second game of this weekend’s final round saw Liam Gill sign off with a brace of tries before his move from Queensland to Toulon, but he couldn’t stop the Reds losing 28 – 31 to the Rebels.
Blindside Sean McMahon scored twice and created a superb opener for the Melbourne outfit from Tom English and the hosts were playing catch-up from there on in.
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