Salesi Rayasi

It ain’t over till it’s over. –Old saying

By Roger Childs

It’s how you finish not how you start

The two North Island Super Rugby teams were playing indoors in the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin in front of a covid-restricted crowd of about 100. Such a pity, as 20,000 spectators would have loved the match as it was one of the most exciting game in the history of Super Rugby.

The Blues dominated for 70 minutes and led 32-14. The commentator wondered what the Hurricanes could do in the last 10 minutes as they needed to score three tries and convert two of them. The odds of this happening? – not a chance. However in a “never say die” team effort they did just that, and a wobbly conversion from right in front secured an incredibly unlikely win – 33-32 – for the Wellington-based franchise.

A dominant Blues performance most of the time

There was huge interest in how former rugby league Warriors star, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, would go in his first rugby match for the Blues. It was thought that he might be eased in with a place on the wing, but coach Leon McDonald opted to put him in mid-field. It was master stroke as Tuivasa-Sheck played superbly notably in the first 20 minutes when the Auckland-based team was all over the Hurricanes. In the tradition of earlier rugby convert Sonny Bill Williams, the new man showed his great skill in off-loading and nearly put his fellow centre Reiko Ioane in for a try under the posts. Furthermore  … he showed his pace and playmaking ability during a fabulous opening 20 minute period that had everyone excited his future in New Zealand rugby. (Fox Sport)

Unfortunately, Tuivasa-Sheck only mistake was a crucial missed tackle in the movement that led to the Hurricanes winning try. 

The Blues were all over their opponents in the first half and they attacked relentlessly, with half back Christie clearing the ball quickly, slick passing in the backs and hard running with ball in hand. It was only determined tackling by the Hurricanes which kept them out. Ironically the Hurricanes took the lead against the run of play when speedster left winger Salesi Rayasi scored an intercept try in the fifteenth minute.  

In the second quarter the Blues forward drives from lineouts let to two tries by hooker Kurt Eklund, and Caleb Clarke, back on the Blues right wing, bagged another in the 30th minute. On a rare sortie into the Blues half, right winger Wes Goosen gathered in a kick through to make the score 24-14 at half time. The Hurricanes would not score again until the 71st minute.

The last 10 minutes

Substitute Sam Darry scored the Blues fourth try in the 69th minute to seemingly give his team a certain victory.  Up 32-14 with only 10 minute to go what could go wrong? Coach Leon McDonald looked confident, but could not have anticipated the great Hurricanes come back. From the kick–off after Darry’s try they swarmed on to the attack with the reserves on the field providing fresh legs and enthusiasm. Three tries were needed to win the match. 

  • 71st minute – Rayasi went over unopposed on the right after an excellent passing movement close to the line. Reuben Love converted to make it 21-32.
  • 78th minute – Rayasi went over again after some inter-passing down the touchline and scored with a spectacular dive against the corner post. The conversion attempt came back off the post so it was now 26-32.

The Blues were tiring and perhaps felt they had done enough with just a minute or so to go.  The Hurricanes had other ideas, and with the momentum their way they quickly went on to the attack again. An excellent break on the left hand side by Bailyn Sullivan led to a pass to Ardie Savea 30 metres out from the line. The skipper raced down the touch line kicked off two would-be tackles and scored behind the posts. With time up, Love added the conversion for a very unlikely win.

Blues Coach Leon McDonald tossed aside his earphone aside in frustration and knew that this was the game that got away. Meanwhile the Wellington coaching staff celebrated in disbelief. There was clear message in the result for the Blues – you must play the full 80 minutes and not lose your focus.