The Blues and Chiefs’ final trial of the Super Rugby pre-season was surprisingly eventful with one All Black showing he’s recovered from a lengthy spell on the sidelines, while another looks set for some time off the field after receiving a straight red for striking another player.
Pre-season trials count for little in the overall scheme of a Super Rugby season but when one of your star players makes a scintillating return in his first game back after a horrific knee injury, and the opposition’s captain gets sent off one week before the season opener, it tends to perk the interest of even the most casual of observers.
The Blues would go on to win the game 24-12 but the plaudits were reserved for Chiefs outhalf Aaron Cruden who impressed in his first game of rugby in over ten months.
Cruden played a pivotal part in both Chiefs tries with the Manawatu playmaker’s role in the second try nothing short of exceptional, after the 26-year-old weaved his way through the defence before beating the fullback and laying the ball up just metres before the line for centre Seta Tamanivalu.
Cruden played in three of the game’s four quarters as Chiefs coach Dave Rennie pulled his star pivot with 20 minutes to go as the Palmerston North product put in a great performance upon return from injury.
Conversely, the Blues also took a lot of positives from Friday’s game in Pukekohe as the Aucklanders reversed a 12-5 halftime deficit into a 24-12 win, with tries from Patrick Tuipulotu, Bryn Hall, Lolagi Visinia and Matt Duffie helping Tana Umaga’s side to their third win of the pre-season.
The Blues looked sharp and will enter the season in good form after previous wins over the Hurricanes and Rebels, but Friday’s victory was largely overshadowed by the dismissal of captain Jerome Kaino, who was sent off for his second half punch on Chiefs prop Pauliasi Manu.
Kaino will now have an anxious wait to see what the SANZAR judiciary make of his punch.
Both sides kick-off their Super Rugby campaigns next weekend when the Blues host the Highlanders at Eden Park while the Chiefs will travel to Canterbury to take on the Crusaders at AMI Stadium.
Jack O’Toole, Pundit Arena