29th March 2022, Marc Hinton, Stuff News Mt Smart Stadium.
Auckland: Blues 32 (Tamati Tua try 9min, Ricky Riccitelli 2 tries 29min, 33min, Luke Romano try 55min, Finlay Christie try 69min; Stephen Perofeta pen, 2 con).
Moana Pasifika 19 (Luteru Tolai try 37min, Abraham Pole try 46min, Tomasi Alosio try 59min; D’Angelo Leuila con, Lincoln McClutchie con).
Red card: Nepo Laulala 57min.
Make no mistake, Moana Pasifika are very much the real deal. Aaron Mauger’s men of the moment gave crosstown rivals the Blues all they could handle in Tuesday’s first Super Rugby Pacific Auckland derby at Mount Smart Stadium.
Just four days after their historic victory over the Hurricanes at the same venue, the competition newcomers pushed their big brothers from up the road to the limit, eventually beaten 32-19, but not before serving up a host of anxious moments for the visitors.
There was a moment 10 minutes into the second half when Moana looked like they might have hit the lead, only for hooker Luteru Tolai to be denied a second try from the driving maul for a second movement.
The Blues survived that danger point, as well as a red card to All Blacks tighthead prop Nepo Laulala in the 57th minute for a shoulder to the head of Lincoln McClutchie at a ruck.
Moana Pasifika were excellent off the lineout-drive, and scored two of their three tries via that avenue, and very nearly a third. They also looked dangerous with ball in hand when they got things rolling.
Manu Samoa fullback D’Angelo Leuila had a strong game, with 53 metres on the carry. Solomone Kata grew into the game in midfield, while wings Tomasi Alosio and Anzelo Tuitavuki were full of running.
The Blues did enough, but continue to struggle to put full performances together. Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepens had a strong game with ball in hand (117m on 11 carries), Mark Telea and Tamati Tua had their moments and the pack, led by hooker Ricky Riccitelli and old dog Luke Romano, were also likely on the drive – scoring three tries themselves there.
Both squads would have had dig deep to get through a tough schedule of three games in little more than a week, to make up for the backlog of matches previously postponed due to covid-19.
The Blues did what they had to do, to score three first-half tries en route to a halftime 19-5 lead, with two of those coming via the lineout-drive to hooker Riccitelli.
Moana hooker Luteru Tolai went over in the first half via a well-organised lineout-drive. Moana were playing infront of a small but vocal band of supporters.
When Moana scored first in the second spell, to prop Abraham Pole, it was game on. They even looked set to finish over the top of the visitors, but for Fin Christie’s late try.