A confident Auckland Blues emerged as serious contenders in Super Rugby Aotearoa with an overwhelming 39-17 win over the Otago Highlanders on Sunday.
It gave the Blues two wins from two and set the stage for their clash next week with the only other unbeaten side, the defending champions Canterbury Crusaders.
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In their first home game of the season after a bye last week, having been stranded away from home when Auckland was in a covid-enforced lockdown the week before, the Blues ran in five tries to two.
The Highlanders had the perfect start with handy penalty by Josh Ioane in the opening minutes.
But it was not long before the superiority of the Blues pack was showing and Rieko Ioane led a sharp-looking backline that carved holes in the Highlanders defence as they raced to a 17-3 lead by half-time.
A week ago, the Highlanders rallied from 20-6 down to beat the Waikato Chiefs 39-23, but this time there was to be no miracle comeback as the Blues piled on a further 22 points in the second half.
"It was a good motivator for us to get the scoreline that we did," Blues captain Paddy Tuipulotu said, noting the strength of his forwards which is also a key weapon for the Crusaders.
"We can be happy with our lineout options, our scrum, it's gong to be a weapon for us.
"I can't fault our effort, the scoreline shows that, and we'll go back and look forward to the Crusaders who are on form."
After Josh Ioane's fourth minute penalty, the Blues bounced back with a converted try by Otere Black to cap a move that started with turnover ball and featured a strong break by an impressive Rieko Ioane.
Caleb Clarke scored their second try, after Rieko Ioane found space running off a cut-out pass from Black.
After a forward pass denied Rieko Ioane a try following a length-of-the-field move with his brother Akira Ioane, a Black penalty pushed the Blues out to a 17-3 lead.
Replacements Emoni Narawa and Kurt Eklund scored in the opening 10 minutes of the second half to extend the lead before Ash Dixon scored the Highlanders' scored first try off a lineout drive.
Another Black penalty and an Akira Ioane try pushed the Blues out to 39-10 before the Highlanders secured a late try through Folau Fakatava. The Blues have continued their perfect start to the season with a 39-17 win over the Highlanders at Eden Park.
Tries: Black, Clarke, Narawa, Eklund, Ioane
Cons: Black 4
Pens: Black 2
Tries: Dixon, Fakatava
Cons: Ioane 2
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