Blues set up clash with Highlanders in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final

By Sports Desk June 12, 2021

Hoskins Sotutu powered the Blues through to the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final as they beat the Western Force 31-21 on Saturday, denying the Crusaders a shot at silverware.

Two tries from Sotutu and one each for Dalton Papalii and Mark Telea helped the Blues carve out a 28-0 interval lead, with Telea denied another try in the second half after the TMO identified an infringement by team-mate Ray Niuia, who was yellow-carded.

By that stage, a Western Force fightback was under way, tries from Feleti Kaitu'u and Tevita Kuridrani having narrowed the deficit, and Rob Kearney went over in the closing stages to cut the deficit to 10 points.

However, the Blues, helped by 11 points from the boot of Otere Black, were not to be caught and they will face the Highlanders at Eden Park in the final next Saturday.

Sotutu had darted in down the left for the opening try, and Telea struck just before the half-hour mark after the Blues withstood a period of Force pressure, with Papalii going over for the third.

Sotutu barged through again just before the break, as the Blues piled on the points.

Kaitu'u made the first dent in the Blues' big lead in the 49th minute, going over from close range, and Kuridrani brought the contest to life when he scythed in for a second Force try just seven minutes later. A penalty from Black eased the Blues' nerves, meaning Kearney's late effort was just a consolation.

That result meant the Crusaders missed out on the final, with the Super Rugby champions each year from 2017 to 2019 seeing trophy hopes scuppered despite beating the Rebels 52-26 in Melbourne earlier in the day.

Wing Sevu Reece pounced for a hat-trick in the eight-try Crusaders show, with Mitchell Drummond, Will Jordan, Leicester Fainga'anuku, Oliver Jager and Braydon Ennor also going over for the men from Christchurch, who finished third in the series.

The top three sides finished level on 23 points from five games, with points difference settling the final places as the Blues took top spot with +119, the Highlanders second on +103, and the Crusaders (+97) agonisingly third.

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    Lions head coach Warren Gatland has made six changes to the side that lost 27-9 in last weekend's encounter in Cape Town.

    Hooker Ken Owens, prop Wyn Jones, scrum-half Ali Price, centre Bundee Aki, wing Josh Adams and full-back Liam Williams all come into the XV.

    Wales duo Adams and Williams are likely to have an important role in the back three under the Springboks' kicking game that dismantled the Lions after half-time last time out.

    Tight-head prop Sinckler will take his place on the bench alongside fly-half Finn Russell, lock Adam Beard and number eight Sam Simmonds – the three of whom are in Test squad for the first time in the series.

    Gatland has axed Owen Farrell Taulupe Faletau, Anthony Watson, Stuart Hogg, Rory Sutherland, Tadhg Beirne and Chris Harris from his 23.

    "The matchday 23 have an incredibly special opportunity in front of them - to seal a Lions series victory in South Africa," said the veteran coach.

    "It doesn't get much bigger than this and we're excited by the challenge that faces us on Saturday.

    "We've no excuses from last week - the Springboks put us under pressure in the second half and deserved the win. We have to be much better than that second-half performance, and I believe we will be."

    Sinckler denied allegations that he bit Franco Mostert and World Rugby were unable to find sufficient evidence to punish the England forward, who was facing a minimum 12-week ban.

    A statement from the governing body read: "Having reviewed all the evidence, the committee deemed that on the balance of probabilities, it could not be satisfied that the player committed an act of foul play.

    "On that basis, the committee dismissed the citing and the player is free to play again immediately."

    South Africa are without world player of the year Pieter-Steph du Toit and influential scrum-half Faf de Klerk through injury.

    Cobus Reinach comes in for De Klerk while Franco Mostert's switch to blindside flanker means Lood de Jager will partner Eben Etzebeth in the second row.

    Veteran fly-half Morne Steyn, whose long-range penalty secured a series triumph for the Springboks over the Lions in 2009, is named on the bench.

     

    British and Irish Lions: Liam Williams, Josh Adams, Robbie Henshaw, Bundee Aki, Duhan van der Merwe, Dan Biggar, Ali Price; Wyn Jones, Ken Owens, Tadhg Furlong, Maro Itoje, Alun Wyn Jones (captain), Courtney Lawes, Tom Curry, Jack Conan

    Replacements: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Kyle Sinckler, Adam Beard, Sam Simmonds, Conor Murray, Finn Russell, Elliot Daly

     

    South Africa : Wille le Roux, Cheslin Kolbe, Lukhanyo Am, Damian de Allende, Makazole Mapimpi; Handre Pollard, Cobus Reinach; Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Frans Malherbe, Eben Etzebeth, Lood de Jager, Siya Kolisi (captain), Franco Mostert, Jasper Wiese

    Replacements: Malcolm Marx, Trevor Nyakane, Vincent Koch, Marco van Staden, Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies, Morne Steyn, Damian Willemse

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    The 48-year-old made the claims in a 62-minute clip posted on social media as he highlighted what he felt were a number of calls that went against South Africa.

    He also retweeted clips from an anonymous Twitter user, alleged to be one of his own accounts, highlighting "questionable calls" made by the tourists.

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    "World Rugby condemns any public criticism of their selection, performance or integrity which undermines their role, the well established and trust-based coach-officials feedback process, and more importantly, the values that are at the heart of the sport.

    "Having conducted a full review of all the available information, World Rugby is concerned that individuals from both teams have commented on the selection and/or performance of match officials.

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    In response, SA Rugby posted a brief statement on Twitter, which read: "SA Rugby has noted the charges brought by World Rugby and will respond through the designated channels. There will be no further comment from SA Rugby until the process is complete."

    South Africa defeated the Lions 27-9 in a fiery encounter at the weekend to level the three-match series at 1-1 and set up a decider in Cape Town on Saturday.

    Erasmus, who has doubled up as a water carrier, may still be present for that showdown as a hearing date has not yet been set by World Rugby.

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    The incident occurred during the 64th minute of an ill-tempered second Test in Cape Town, a game the hosts won 27-9 to level the series at one apiece.

    England prop Sinckler has come off the bench in both Tests so far but would face a minimum ban of 12 weeks if found guilty.

    The 28-year-old will attend a World Rugby hearing via video conference on Tuesday.

    In a statement, World Rugby added there were no additional citings from the match after Lions full-back Stuart Hogg denied allegations that he had bitten Springbok counterpart Willie le Roux.

    "I would never bite an opponent and I am annoyed and upset by this unsubstantiated accusation. I've always been proud of playing rugby in the spirit of the game," Scotland international Hogg said in a statement issued by the Lions.

    The third and final Test between the teams takes place at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday. 

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