Blues edge thriller against Rebels

The Blues made a triumphant return to action when they secured a deserved 36-30 victory over the Rebels in Auckland on Saturday.

Tana Umaga's charges had a bye last weekend and came into this game with plenty to prove against a resilient Rebels side, who are sitting at the top of the Australian Conference.

And the home side did just that, outscoring their visitors six tries to four although they were made to work hard to secure the result as the Rebels fought back brilliantly during the latter stages of this match.

Despite finishing on the losing side, the Rebels made a superb start and scored the opening try as early as the third minute. Reece Hodge was the beneficiary of a wayward pass from James Parsons, inside the Blues' 22, and crossed for the easy five-pointer.

The Rebels continued to dominate and Jack Debreczeni increased their lead via a penalty in the 11th minute. The Blues then took control of proceedings and scored three unanswered tries within a 10-minute spell which left the Rebels on the back-foot.

First, Parsons made up for his earlier mishap when he crossed for the Blues' opening points in the 15th minute. The nuggety hooker ran onto a Bryn Hall pass close to the Rebels' tryline and spun out of a Tamati Ellison tackle before dotting down.

Five minutes later, the Blues took the lead when Jerome Kaino barged over from close quarters before Charlie Faumuina scored from a line-out drive inside the visitors' 22.

Debreczeni replied with a penalty on the half-hour mark but two minutes later Ihaia West stepped out of a tackle beforescoring his side's fourth try.

The Rebels were under the cosh but didn't surrender and shortly before half-time Jordy Reid scored their second try from a rolling maul which meant the Blues led 24-18 at the interval.

Unlike the opening period, the Blues were fastest out of the blocks in the second half and Tevita Li crossed for their fifth try in the left-hand corner after George Moala laid the groundwork with a strong carry in the build-up.

Ten minutes later, Lolagi Visinia put more daylight between his side and the visitors when he crossed for their sixth try after beating five defenders inside the Rebels' 22.

Although the Blues held a comfortable 18-point lead now, the Rebels didn't surrender and ensured that the game would go down to the wire by crossing for two tries in quick succession.

In the 64th minute, Colby Fainga’a got over in the left-hand corner and, three minutes later, Sefa Naivalu gathered a loose ball inside the Blues' half and outpaced the cover defence before scoring under the posts.

The final 10 minutes was a frantic affair as the Rebels gave their all in a bid to secure victory but a resilient defensive effort from the hosts was enough to secure them the result.

The scorers:

For Blues:
Parsons, Kaino, Faumuina, West, Li, Visinia
Cons: West 2, Francis

For Rebels:
Hodge, Reid, Fainga’a, Naivalu
Cons: Debreczeni 2
Pens: Debreczeni 2

Blues: 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Rieko Ioane, 13 George Moala, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 19 Akira Ioane, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 Melani Nanai or Matt Duffie

Rebels: 15 Jonah Placid, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Reece Hodge, 12 Tamati Ellison, 11 Sefa Naivalu, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Sean McMahon, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Sam Jeffries, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Jamie Hagan, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Tim Metcher, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Colby Fainga’a, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Sione Tuipulotu, 23 Kotaro Matsushima 

Referee: Craig Joubert
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson, Brett Johnson
TMO: Ben Skeen