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The Emirates Western Force has fallen to the Blues, 32-9, at Eden Park tonight on the first leg of their two-match New Zealand tour.
While the first-half arm wrestle provided the home side with a 13-9 half-time lead, it was one-way traffic in the second term with the Blues running in three tries in the final 25 minutes of the match.
The West Australians were dealt a blow prior to the match when captain Nathan Sharpe joined a bulging injury ward – that already included Wallabies David Pocock (groin), Matt Hodgson (ankle), Salesi Ma’afu (broken arm) and Ben McCalman (shoulder) – when he succumbed to a back complaint just hours before kick-off.
Sharpe’s absence catapulted Oliver Atkins into the starting XV for his FxPro Super Rugby debut while Brett Sheehan assumed the captaincy of one of the most inexperienced Emirates Western Force sides in the club’s history.
Despite their deficiency of FxPro Super Rugby caps, the visitors made a spirited start with flyhalf Ben Seymour controlling the match and the Emirates Western Force pack asserting themselves at the set piece.
While Seymour and Blues winger Lachie Munro exchanged early penalty goals, the first try did not come until the 29th minute. The Blues appeared to have scored when Ma’a Nonu steamed through from short distance only to be met by an enveloping, try-saving tackle from winger Napolioni Nalaga, who was among the Emirates Western Force’s best. However, Nalaga’s efforts only delayed the five-pointer with Steven Luatua crossing in the corner, with Munro’s conversion bringing it to 10-6 before he and Seymour each added a further penalty goal prior to the break.
The Emirates Western Force continued their solid form early in the second term, culminating in a charging run from Nalaga through the middle of the Blues defence only to be reeled in just prior to the line.
The Fijian winger’s burst seemingly spurred on the Blues, who then added two tries and 14 points within three minutes – the first coming through fullback and debutante Charles Piutau before Nonu capitalised on a Peter Saili bust to score.
While Blues back-rower Luke Braid completed the scoring with his touchdown at the 71st minute mark, the visitors appeared to have clawed back some consolation when replacement scrumhalf Josh Holmes scamper across with six minutes remaining, only to be held up.
The only casualty for the Emirates Western Force was inside centre Winston Stanley, who was very effective against his former side before he was forced off the field with a dislocated shoulder with 10 minutes remaining.
Sheehan said the result was a valuable lesson for his young side.
“For 50 minutes of the game we were very competitive,” Sheehan said. “Our intent was right but unfortunately after that compounding errors cost us, we gave away possession and you can’t give Auckland those opportunities because they’ll take advantage of it and that’s exactly what they did.
“At times we lacked concentration and we did have a few new guys in the squad, but that’s no excuse, at this level you have to maintain pressure and we let it off too easily.”
The Emirates Wester Force will complete their 2012 FxPro Super Rugby against the Crusaders in Christchurch next Saturday (14 July).
2012 FxPro Super Rugby – Week 20
Saturday, 7 July 2012 at Eden Park, Auckland
Kick-off: 7.35 (local)/3.35pm (AWST)
Emirates Western Force 9 (Pen: B Seymour 3/3)
Blues 32 (Tries: S Luatua, C Piutau, M Nonu, L Braid; Con: L Munro 3/4; Pen: L Munro 2/3)
Emirates Western Force: 1.Pek Cowan, 2.Nathan Charles, 3.Salesi Manu, 4.Toby Lynn, 5.Oliver Atkins, 6.Richard Brown, 7.Angus Cottrell, 8.Lachlan McCaffrey, 9. Brett Sheehan (c), 10.Ben Seymour, 11.Napolioni Nalaga, 12. Winston Stanley, 13.Will Tupou, 14.Nick Cummins, 15.Alfie Mafi. Res: 16.Ben Whittaker, 17.Ruan Smith, 18.Tetera Faulkner, 19.Anare Koliavu, 20.Josh Holmes, 21.Kyle Godwin, 22.Patrick Dellit
Blues: 1.Tony Woodcock, 2.Keven Mealamu, 3.Tevita Mailau, 4.Liaki Moli, 5.Andrew van der Heijden, 6.Steven Luatua, 7.Daniel Braid, 8.Luke Braid, 9.Piri Weepu, 10.Michael Hobbs, 11.Rene Ranger, 12.Ma’a Nonu, 13.Francis Saili, 14.Lachie Munro, 15.Charles Piutau. Res: 16.Tom McCartney, 17.Angus Ta’avao, 18.Chris Lowrey, 19.Peter Saili, 20.Alby Mathewson, 21.Orene Ai’i, 22.Hadleigh Parkes
Yellow Cards: nil
Red Cards: nil
Referee: Andrew Lees
Crowd: Not announced
By the Clock