Blues the super power

Auckland Blues 23 ACT Brumbies 7
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For all the talk of new-age rugby, Auckland retained the Super 12 title thanks to a mighty forward effort which eventually overwhelmed ACT's inventiveness in a quagmire at Eden Park.

The heavy conditions constantly frustrated the Brumbies' back line, whose fast and precise interpassing has been one of the hallmarks of the competition. And in the end Auckland's power prevailed and they preserved their unbeaten record in this year's tournament.

The game lost both its leading characters late in the second half when the Brumbies' sparkling scrum-half, George Gregan, clashed heads with Auckland's hugely influential No 8, Zinzan Brooke. Gregan left the field on a stretcher while the Auckland captain staggered off to be checked for concussion. Both were cleared fit in due course.

The Blues, whose pace and power have swept all before them this season, had to wait 28 minutes for their first try, and when it came it turned the match. A relentless seven-minute, seven-scrum pounding five metres out from the ACT line softened up the Brumbies enough for Brooke to set up the All Black prop Craig Dowd to go over.

The die was cast, and although key Brumbie backs such as Gregan and Stephen Larkham started up their trademark clever moves they were shut out for the bulk of the game by a wet ball and typically remorseless hard Auckland defending.

The Blues were 10-0 up at half-time after an Adrian Cashmore penalty, and he landed two more early in the second half. When Michael Jones intercepted a flat pass across the ACT back line and ran in a breakaway try, the game was all but over. Cashmore's conversion took the score to 23-0. The only consolation for the Brumbies was Joe Roff's 65th-minute brilliant solo try and conversion.

The win stretched Auckland's unbeaten run in Super12 to 15 games. The New Zealand Prime Minister, Jim Bolger, in a brief address on the pitch, told Auckland: "You have proved yet again that you are the finest provincial rugby team in the world." The Blues coach Graham Henry called it "a very hard game of rugby", and said his side had "played superbly, especially that second half when they kept grinding away".

Henry paid tribute to the Brumbies, now regarded as the standard-bearers of Australian rugby under their astute coach Rod Macqueen after coming from virtually nowhere in two years. Their captain Brett Robinson said "We really concentrated on our defence over the last five or six weeks but unfortunately we let ourselves down at a couple of very vital times," he said.

The prop Ewen McKenzie admitted the ACT pack was heavily taxed by the pressure before the first try. "There's nothing worse for a front row than having to defend your line from a series of scrums like that," he said.

Auckland Blues: A Cashmore; J Vidiri, E Clarke, L Stensness, B Lima; C Spencer, O Tonu'u; C Dowd, S Fitzpatrick, O Brown, L Lafaiali'i; R Brooke, M Jones, Z Brooke (capt), M Carter.

ACT Brumbies: S Larkham; M Hardy, J Holbeck, P Howard, J Roff; D Knox, G Gregan; P Noriega, M Caputo, E McKenzie, J Langford, D Giffin, O Finnegan, T Coker, B Robinson (capt).