Bryce Heem scored two tries as a first-half replacement yesterday and winger Caleb Clarke added two more as the Auckland Blues beat the Queensland Reds 53-26 to stay atop the table in Super Rugby Pacific.
Heem took the field as an early substitute for All Blacks center Rieko Ioane, who strained a hamstring. He touched down first in the 14th minute — less than a minute after taking the field — and again as the Blues built a 22-7 lead after 32 minutes.
The Blues were impressive, hunting turnovers throughout the first half and quickly combining in layered support play to create tries, including one before halftime to Clarke.
The Reds were almost constantly going backward, which taxed their tight forwards, but they stayed in the game, overcoming lineout glitches and helped by penalties conceded by the Blues at breakdowns, to create two first-half tries.
Winger Suliasi Vunivalu scored the first and had a role in the second, which was scored by lock Ryan Smith.
Scrumhalf Tate McDermott and flyhalf James O’Connor also helped the Reds with try-saving plays that kept the match in the balance at 22-14 at halftime.
The Blues put the match beyond doubt with two tries in the space of three minutes at the start of the second half.
“For us winning’s contagious,” Blues captain Dalton Papalii said. “The last couple of years we’ve gone win loss, win loss, but this year we’ve got a roll on and the winning’s contagious.”
Earlier, the Fijian Drua scored three first-half tries and held on in a tighter second half to beat Moana Pasifika 34-19 in the first official meeting of this season’s Super Rugby newcomers.
In yesterday’s third match, the visiting Wellington Hurricanes beat the NSW Waratahs 22-18 after enduring long periods in the first half without any possession.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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