Blues confused and heartbroken in controversial loss

Author
NZ Herald,
Section
Rugby,
Publish Date
Saturday, 8 June 2019, 9:15AM
Taniela Tupou of the Reds tries to stop Alex Hodgman of the Blues. Photo / Photosport
Taniela Tupou of the Reds tries to stop Alex Hodgman of the Blues. Photo / Photosport

The Blues have suffered yet another heartbreaking loss – this time against the Reds in Brisbane in a match they should have won and probably would have had referee Brendon Pickerall and his television match official not ruled out what would have been Augustine Pulu's third try of the night.

It was a controversial moment in an entertaining and often frantic match and unfortunately a few of Kiwi Pickerall's decisions left the Blues looking confused.

The upshot was a one-point defeat, Bryce Hegarty's conversion from a relatively difficult angle for Scott Higginbotham's second try proving the difference. With only minutes remaining the Blues had a final chance on attack and made it well into the Reds' territory, only to turn the ball over, although, again, they were perhaps unfortunate not to win a penalty from it.

The Blues were further hamstrung by the yellow card for loose forward Dalton Papalii in the closing moments for a ruck infringement. A victory would have kept the Blues' faint playoffs hopes alive, but now they are finally buried.

The turning point was perhaps the decision to rub out Pulu's third try after 56 minutes with the Blues leading 28-22. Blake Gibson had made the tackle and won the turnover to release the halfback, who was tackled by two defenders as he charged for the line.

Pulu got the ball over the line but Pickerall's decision was that he hadn't released the ball, although it didn't appear obvious. A try would have just about put the Blues out of touch. Instead, the decision gave the Reds' hope and, just as it appeared the Blues would hold them out, the home side took advantage via Higginbotham's run down the left for his 41st Super Rugby try.

Leon MacDonald's men have only one game left – away to the Hurricanes next weekend – and while they were unlikely to make the finals, this was a desperately unfortunate way for it to be confirmed because they were so deadly on attack in the first quarter they looked likely to score every time they won the ball.

They are clearly a dry-ball team and the conditions at Suncorp Stadium are much more to their liking than a cold and wet New Zealand stadium so they were quick to cash in via skipper Blake Gibson from close range after only three minutes, with left wing Tanielu Tele'a following suit after brilliant offloads on the left from Akira Ioane and Papalii.

A Higginbotham try appeared only a blip, with Pulu running on to a brilliant Ma'a Nonu break and inside pass, but a reply from Reds prop Taniela Tupou, converted by Hegarty as the Blues leaked penalties in their own territory would have created concern in the visiting coaching box.

A Hegarty penalty on the stroke of halftime would have added to that angst, and, although the Blues retained a six-point lead at the break, it was soon swallowed up by Hegarty's try and conversion straight afterwards.

The excellent Pulu hit back again, though, and almost did again only for it all to end in disappointment for him and the visitors.

Reds 29 (Scott Higginbotham 2, Taniela Tupou, Bryce Hegarty tries; Hegarty 3 cons, pen)
Blues 28 (Augustine Pulu 2, Blake Gibson, Tanielu Tele'a tries; Otere Black 4 cons)
Halftime: 15-21