Super Rugby Pacific: Blues break 21-year title drought with comprehensive victory over Chiefs at Eden Park

Winger Caleb Clarke has scored a try hattrick and captain Patrick Tuipulotu played an inspirational hand to lead the Blues to a 41-10 victory over the Chiefs in the Super Rugby Pacific final.

Twenty-one years after they last raised the trophy, the Auckland-based side made no race of the season climax, scoring two converted tries in the first half and clinching the result with two more after the break.

Clarke, whose father Eroni was part of previous champion Blues sides, showed his speed and strength for his tries, while flanker Akira Ioane - in his final game before heading offshore - produced one of his best performances to score the opener and set up Clarke's first.  

Caleb Clarke scores his third try against the Chiefs.
Caleb Clarke scores his third try against the Chiefs. Photo credit: Photosport

The Blues weathered an initial assault from their rivals, when they struggled to clear their 22 in wet conditions, but the opportunity passed, when Chiefs fullback Shaun Stevenson floated a long pass into touch.

Those conditions worked against Chiefs first-five Damian McKenzie, whose penalty attempt from near halfway fell short.

The home side had their first chance, when Clarke found room down the left touchline and cut infield to reach the 22, before slipping over. The move broke down with a forward pass, but set up a period of territorial dominance that produced the opening try.

From a penalty, the Blues forwards won an attacking lineout and laid siege on the tryline, before Ioane burrowed across. 

From the kickoff, Tuipulotu put any doubts over his injured knee to rest, galloping back to halfway, before counterpart Luke Jacobson was guilty of a high tackle that conceded just a penalty.

Discipline was proving a problem for the Chiefs, who were pinged at the next breakdown and warned by referee Nic Berry. First-five Harry Plummer slotted the goal from close range and the Blues lead was in double figures.

McKenzie eased the pain with a penalty for the Chiefs, but they were in further trouble, when winger Emoni Narawa misjudged the kickoff and let it bounce into touch. Hooker Tyrone Thompson exacerbated the error by throwing crooked to the lineout.

From the scrum, Berry played advantage to the Blues, with a yellow card surely looming, but centre Rieko Ioane combined with brother Akira to keep the ball alive near the touchline and Clarke was the beneficiary for a try.  

The Chiefs kept their full contingent though, dodging a bullet. They went another 14 minutes without further punishment, but with halftime looming, they were back on the hook, with Plummer stretching the lead to 20-3 at the break.  

Blues prop Ofa Tu'ungafasi was a surprisingly early defection just a couple of minutes into the second half, after helping his pack dominate their opposites for 40 minutes.

Berry issued the Chiefs with their third 'final' warning of the contest and from a subsequent lineout, prop George Dyer was deemed offside and shown the sideline. A man short in the front row, the Chiefs were forced to sacrifice flanker Samipeni Finau at the ensuing scrum and Clark took the ball at pace to exploit that absence for his second try. 

Chiefs first-five Damian McKenzie under against the Blues.
Chiefs first-five Damian McKenzie under against the Blues. Photo credit: Photosport

With less than half an hour remaining and 24 points up, the home side were already celebrating. Tuipulotu left to a standing ovation from the long-suffering Blues faithful, after defying medical advice to lead by example, but his team weren't done by any means.

The Chiefs were barely back to full strength, when another concerted drive from the Blues forwards allowed halfback Finlay Christie to lob a long pass to Clarke for his third try.

The visitors finally found the scoreboard, when centre Anton Lienert-Brown took an inside pass from McKenzie and offloaded for flanker Simon Parker to score a try.

The Blues did not let their foot off the accelerator, as their pack again laid the foundation for second-five AJ Lam to scramble over, as Clarke left clutching his ribs.

The victory trumps their most recent success, when they took out a truncated 2021 Super Rugby Trans-Tasman title played under a flawed format that saw Aussie sides unable to compete with their Kiwi counterparts.

"It's a surreal feeling," reflected Tuipulotu. "I can't describe the feeling, a lot of joy.

"It's been a long time and I'm really proud of the effort our team has put in to get us this win. It's important to this team, a lot of them are young and we wanted to add to the legacy of Blues rugby... I think we can be proud we've done that."

Blues 41 (Clarke 3, A Ioane, Lam tries; Plummer 5 conversions & 2 penalties) Chiefs 10 (Parker try; McKenzie penalty & conversion)