Super Rugby Aupiki: Late rally carries Blues Women to maiden championship over Chiefs Manawa

Barnstorming No.8 Liana Mikaele-Tu'u has scored a late try to propel Blues Women to their first Super Rugby Aupiki title, rallying from 13 points down to defeat Chiefs Manawa 24-18 in the final at Auckland's Eden Park.

Midway through the second half, the home side found themselves 18-5 behind, but began to claw their way back into the contest through their bench, with replacement halfback Kahlia Awa sparking the comeback.

Winger Katelyn Vaha'akolo grabbed her second try to continue the momentum, before Mikaele-Tu'u finally put her team ahead for the first time in the contest with seconds remaining. 

Blues Women celebrate their Super Rugby Aupiki victory.
Blues Women celebrate their Super Rugby Aupiki victory. Photo credit: Getty Images

In the time left on the clock, the Chiefs could not turn the tables, and the Blues were able to clear for touch and start their celebrations.

Vaha'akolo put the Chiefs on notice early, with a surging run into the 22 that needed centre Mererangi Paul retreating quickly to snuff out. Two penalties gave the Manawa field position and winger Ruby Tui chipped to the corner for fullback Renee Holmes to gather and open the scoring.

Heavy rain made handling difficult and played its part in frustrating attacking opportunities for both sides, but Chiefs midfielder Grace Steinmetz galloped from her 22 to halfway to spark one promising raid.

Playing for Matatū, Holmes was arguably the difference between the Chiefs winning and losing last year's final, but was proving just as influential with the change of teams this season. She extended the lead with a penalty from in front, before the Blues finally found the scoreboard. 

As Tui tried to launch from her own 22, she ambitiously tried to leap over her tacklers and was penalised for raising her boots. From the quick tap, the Blues spread the ball right, where Vaha'akolo dived over in the corner.

After the siren, Vaha'akolo roared back into the 22 and the Blues rumbled towards the tryline, but a long pass from centre Daynah Nanikvell went through the hands of flanker Niall Williams-Guthrie and into touch to end the half.

Within seconds of the restart, Blues captain Ruahei Demant showed her pace, racing deep into Chiefs territory to put her team on the frontfoot. Another series of penalties carried the Manawa back onto attack, but under advantage, winger Reece Anderson was dragged down just short of the corner. 

Taken back for the penalty, the Chiefs forwards laid siege on the tryline and flanker Mia Anderson plunged over for their second try. From the kickoff, prop Tanya Kalounivale charged upfield to put the Chiefs back in Blues territory, where Holmes slotted another penalty.

The Blues struck back, when they enjoyed some rare field position and Awa dived over, but the missed conversion still left them beyond a converted try.

With eight minutes left, Vaha'akolo gave them the impetus they needed, simply outsprinting marker Reece Anderson for her second try, as the Blues finished strongly. First-five Krysten Cotrell slotted the conversion from wideout and the difference was just one point. 

The home side got their change, when centre Chelsea Semple tried to run the ball from her own goal area, but spilled it in the tackle. From the scrum, the Blues forwards went a couple of phases, before No.8 Liana Mikaele-Tu'u powered over from close range for victory.

Blues Women 24 (Vaha'akolo 2, Awa, Mikaele-Tu'u tries; Cottrell 2 conversions) Chiefs Manawa 18 (Holmes & M Anderson tries; Holmes 2 penalties & conversion)