The three tries to one win, in the second leg of a double-header in Hamilton, came after a Covid-19 disrupted build-up. The Blues took the field with several of their match-day squad having not played for seven months and minus five of their most seasoned forwards, including captain Aroha Savage.
Working off a solid set-piece, highlighted by several effective lineout drives, something we have seen little of in the previous two Aupiki games, the Blues brought intent and hunger, if not consistent cohesion. That hunger, and enjoyment, was evident in their big smiles as they ran out of the tunnel.
That pressure scarcely let up, forcing Matatū into another onerous defensive workload and meant the South Island team’s attacking game could gain little traction.
While the encounter was won in the pack, there were some nice touches from Blues fullback Tyla Nathan-Wong, despite minimal background in 15s, and replacement midfielder Mele Hufanga, who troubled Matatū with her direct running and scored a try in which she had plenty of work to finish.
The offload for Hufanga came from tighthead prop Aldora Itunu, who was one of several Blues to be affected by the passing last week of Shirley ‘Aunty’ Syman, a mentor to many through Auckland Rugby’s Pro Sport programme.
The first try of the clash actually went to Blues loosehead prop Krystal Murray who, despite a battle with cramp, scooped up a loose ball and darted between the uprights after Hufanga had set up play with her hustle and bustle.
When Matatū wing Martha Mataele scored her side’s sole try at 44 minutes after a quick tap, it was 14-10 to the Blues and it seemed like game on.
But the Blues pack, green in many aspects, stayed tight thanks to the likes of lock Maia Roos and impressive No 8 Liana Mikaele-Tu’u. The reward was a well-constructed team try, finished by No 6 Shannon Leota.
Matatū defended gamely, especially Renee Holmes at the back. One of her tackles on a rampant Hufanga was a highlight. But there was little attacking flow from a team that is missing Kendra Cocksedge and whose pack did not trouble its opponents like it did against the Chiefs Manawa in the opening round.
The Blues now have a chance to steal Sky Super Rugby Aupiki by defeating the Chiefs Manawa in the final game on Sunday in Hamilton.
nib Blues 21 (Krystal Murray, Mele Hufanga, Shannon Leota tries; Patricia Maliepo 2 con, Krysten Cottrell con) Matatū 10 (Martha Mataele try; Liv McGoverne con, pen) HT: 7-3 Blues