Super Rugby Pacific: Blues hold out spirited Fijian Drua to book home semi-final at Eden Park

Blues winger Caleb Clarke has scored a try double to help his team steamroll Fijian Drua 36-5 to progress to a home Super Rugby Pacific semi-final at Eden Park next week.

After holding their rivals scoreless at halftime, the home side were rocked on their heels by a try after the second-half restart and had to compose themselves to repulse a spirited comeback that was not reflected on the scoreboard.

Clarke had a try in each half, with his second putting the icing on the cake at the end.

Caleb Clarke scores a try against Drua.
Caleb Clarke scores a try against Drua. Photo credit: Photosport

The Blues got off to a shaky start, when fullback Stephen Perofeta put his opening kickoff into touch on the full, but the Drua were penalised for obstruction, as they tried to capitalise on the initial possession.

Clarke went close, before hooker Ricky Riccitelli was pinged for a double movement at the tryline, as the penalty count went against the visitors early.  

With everyone watching the back of the maul from an attacking lineout, flanker Dalton Papali'i popped up at the front to score the opening try.

The Blues enjoyed territorial advantage through the educated boot of first-five Harry Plummer. Once inside the 22, they kept the ball in hand to build phases and pressure on the Drua defence.

From another close-range lineout, Riccitelli was held up over the tryline. The Blues had their second, when Plummer kicked to the corner for Clarke, but the ball went loose, centre Rieko Ioane gathered and offloaded to halfback Finlay Christie, who scrambled over.

Plummer converted, despite slipping over in the process, but the home side had lost skipper Patrick Tuipulotu to a knee injury, exposing two rookie locks in a sudden-death contest.

The lineout continued to pay dividends, with Papali'i surging to the line and Plummer throwing a long pass to unmarked Clarke to score in the left corner.

Behind 22-0 at the break, the Drua struck first, when winger Selestino Ravutaumada split the defence for a runaway try, and suddenly they seemed to find another gear, while the Blues began looking over their shoulders.

The visitors had a chance to narrow the deficit further, but Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula sliced a penalty attempt from handy position.

In their effort to regain control, the Blues reverted back to their set-piece, overpowering the Drua scrum and again using the lineout to shunt replacement hooker Kurt Eklund over for a try.

To put the punctuation mark on their performance, the Blues ran a setplay off another attacking lineout, with Clarke taking the ball at full pace to scored his double.

"That wasn't comfortable," said Blues captain Papali'i. "You knew what you were going to get from the Drua - that's fast-paced footy and they clearly showed it tonight.

"There were long phases and they broke us for their try, but they're a helluva team.

"It's finals footy now - it's the best teams playing for the end goal. We didn't win a lot of moments out there - there were a few we missed - and they really showed they can really sting us."

They will now wait the result of the final quarter-final between ACT Brumbies and the Highlanders to learn their opponents in next week's semi-final. They will also wait anxiously for the prognosis on Tuipulotu's injury.

Blues 36 (Clarke 2, Papali'i, Christie, Eklund tries; Plummer 4 conversions & penalty) Fijian Drua 5 (Ravutaumada try; Armstrong-Ravula conversion