AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — Bryce Heem scored two tries as a first-half replacement and winger Caleb Clarke added two more as the Auckland-based Blues beat the Queensland Reds 53-26 on Saturday 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 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.
The Reds rallied with two tries to fullback Jock Campbell on either side of a try to Blues replacement hooker Soane Vikena which made the score 46-26 or seven tries to four, briefly endangering a Blues bonus point.
Vikena’s second try from a lineout drive sealed the match and made the bonus point safe ahead of the Blues’ clash with the second-place ACT Brumbies next weekend.
“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.
Unfortunately the clash of the first Pacific teams in Super Rugby came when both likely are out of playoff contention.
After an exchange of traditional challenges, the Drua took the lead with a try after six minutes to backrower Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta. Only two minutes later winger Vinaya Habosi made the score 14-0 with his fifth try of the season.
Flanker Solomone Funaki struck back for Moana Pasifika in the 13th minute but the Drua retained the upper hand with a try to center Apisalome Vota.
Prop Abraham Pole scored for Moana Pasifika who trailed 24-12 at halftime.
In the final match Saturday, the Wellington-based Hurricanes came back from a 15-0 halftime deficit to beat the New South Wales Waratahs 22-18 at Sydney.
Flanker Ardie Savea scored the winning try for the Hurricanes with six minutes left after substitute flyhalf Ben Donaldson had given the Waratahs a three-point lead heading into the final 10 minutes.
It was the fourth win in four matches for New Zealand teams against their Australian counterparts so far in the 13th round.
On Friday, the Highlanders beat the Western Force 61-10 and the Crusaders defeated the ACT Brumbies 37-26 ahead of the Blues' victory Saturday over the Reds.
On Sunday, the Hamilton-based Chiefs will try to make it a 5-0 clean sweep when they take on the Rebels at Melbourne.
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