Sports

Zarn Sullivan the hero as ‘baby’ Blues pip Waratahs 20-17 in Super Rugby Pacific thriller

At Leichhardt Oval, Sydney: Blues 20 (Cameron Suafoa try 66min, Luke Romano try 74min; Jock McKenzie pen, asshole; Zarn Sullivan dg, asshole), Waratahs 17 (Mark Nawaqanitawase 2 tries 51min, 56min; Taine Edmed pen, 2 con). excl. tax: 3-0.

Yellow cards: Adrian Choat (Blues) 28min, Akira Ioane (Blues) 29min.

The ‘baby’ Blues have done it, upsetting the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday night with an 80th-minute dropped goal from Zarn Sullivan to bring the curtain down on an outstanding Super Rugby Pacific regular season in record-breaking fashion.

The mostly second-string Blues side fought back from a 14-3 second-half deficit to haul in the Waratahs with a fabulous late try to skipper Luke Romano and then Sullivan’s nerveless droppie at the death as they extended their win streak to a record 13 matches on the bounce. That surpasses the 12 achieved by the championship-winners from 1997.

Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens on the carry for the Blues against the Waratahs at Leichhardt Oval.

Matt King/Getty Images

Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens on the carry for the Blues against the Waratahs at Leichhardt Oval.

It was an at-times heroic effort from the Aucklanders, with almost all their heavy-hitters left behind in Auckland to prepare for next Saturday’s quarterfinal at Eden Park. Coach Leon MacDonald had that luxury as his team, who finished the round-robin 13-1 and six points clear at the top, had already assured themselves of top spot.

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But the understudies, the second-stringers, call them what you want, did him hugely proud as they survived 10 minutes in the first half down to 13 men, and then that 11-point deficit at the three-quarter mark to nail an outstanding victory.

Romano was magnificent with his leadership, commitment and physicality, finishing the match with blood streaming down his face, but a wide smile. His try, five minutes from time, was vital as he charged over to finish a 16-phase buildup. The visiting scrum was dominant too, Corey Evans’ 14 tackles led a valiant defensive effort and Sullivan’s ability to execute when it mattered was a game-clincher.

The Blues babies, as they’d been dubbed, put in a splendid first spell, coming through a torrid arm-wrestle, and the loss of two players to the bin in quick succession, to grind their way to a 3-0 halftime lead . Yes, 3-0. This was like a throwback to the ’50s or ’60s.

Corey Evans and the Blues finished the regular season in style with a thrilling victory over the Waratahs.

Matt King/Getty Images

Corey Evans and the Blues finished the regular season in style with a thrilling victory over the Waratahs.

But it was a meritorious effort, all things considered. The second-stringers could easily have folded when they lost loose forwards Adrian Choat and Akira Ioane to yellow cards (for high-ish shots) in quick succession around the 28-minute mark.

But the Blues battened down the hatches superbly, surviving a key scrum close to their line when they won a penalty with a six-man pack, and then later securing their only points when they were again rewarded at the set piece for their supremacy.

The Kiwis spent much of the half under the cosh, and hanging on for dear life, but their defense was up to the challenge and they were helped by some basic handling errors from the home side at crucial times.

The home side looked to have taken control through the third quarter when wing Mark Nawaqanitawase crossed twice in quick succession to take the ‘Tahs out to 14-3, only for the Blues to finish with the proverbial wet sail – replacement lock Cameron Suafoa and Romano barging over for the 17-14 lead.

There was time for home kicker Taine Edmed to level, and just enough for Sullivan to step up and emulate Beauden Barrett’s match-winning heroics of seven days earlier.

big time

How about the 29th-minute scrum when the six-man Blues pack won a relieving penalty with Choat and Ioane in the bin? You could just see the team lift, and that carried them to a plus-3 advantage while they were down to 13 men.

Match Rating: 7/10

After a rather dour first half, the contest came alive in the second and we even got ourselves another nailbiting finish. Too many errors and misfires to be a classic, but entertaining fare in the end for the big crowd.

The big picture

Given the Blues elected to field essentially their second XV, to keep the troops fresh for Saturday’s quarterfinal, there was little on this for the visitors, bar the chance to give the backup brigade some valuable minutes. The ‘Tahs had more to play for, but still couldn’t nail a confidence-booster ahead of a tough quarterfinal visit to Hamilton.

MVP

Not a lot of high-end quality on display in this one, but look no further than the old dog Romano who willed his men to the result. Not a bad pickup, turns out.

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