A hat-trick from Rieko Ioane gave the Blues a perfect start to the Super Rugby season as they beat the Rebels 56-18 at AAMI Park on Friday.
The All Blacks’ teenage sensation was outstanding as he punished the Rebels for sloppy ball-handling and half-hearted tackling.
For the Blues, Pauliasi Manu, Matt Duffie, Augustine Pulu and Melani Nanai also crossed for tries, while flyhalf Ihaia West kicked 16 points.
The Rebels were forced to make a late tweak to their backline as Mitch Inman was ruled out, meaning that Tom English moved to centre and Jonah Placid came onto the wing. The Blues meanwhile were hoping their new faces, such as Pulu, capitalised on the disruption.
It was all the Blues early on as they were patient in possession and eventually moved 3-0 in front as pivot West slotted from 45 metres.
The Rebels struck back though on seven minutes as youngster Jack Maddock showed a calmness to put the ball back inside to scrum-half Nic Stirzaker who went over for the score, with the conversion from fly-half Jackson Garden-Bachop making it a 7-3 lead to the home franchise.
That was cut to a point on 18 minutes when several picks for the line from the Blues ended with loosehead Manu getting the ball down.
The Rebels missed the chance to extend the lead to four soon after as Garden-Bachop was off-target, one of three missed kicks in the half. But he would have been a happy fly-half when West was charged down close to his line and the Rebels 10 grounded made it 12-8 to the hosts.
From then on though the Blues dominated as first nice handling from left to right sent wing Duffie over for a converted try and after West and Reece Hodge traded penalties, a stray pass from Rebels flanker Jordy Reid near halfway led to Ioane sprinting over for a 25-15 buffer.
Hodge was again on target to open the scoring in the second-half, cutting the gap to seven points, but then the Blues onslaught went into full swing as scrum-half Pulu raced over from 40 metres out to make it 32-18 before Ioane claimed his second from distance for 39-18.
The Rebels were on the ropes and in their desperation were being picked off at will as a kick ahead saw wing Nanai the next to cross for the Blues on 58 minutes before number eight Akira Ioane set up his brother Rieko for a hat-trick. That was his last act to cap a fine game.
At 53-18 the match was starting to fizzle out as it neared its final 10 minutes, with a yellow card for replacement Rene Ranger giving the Rebels some welcome field position. But a loose line-out, which wasn’t their first of the night, summed up a poor start to the season for the Rebels, with centre Piers Francis knocking over a late penalty soon after to put the seal on what was an outstanding victory for the Blues.
Tries: Stirzaker, Garden-Bachop
Pens: Hodge 2
Tries: Manu, Duffie, Ioane 3, Pulu, Nanai
Cons: West 5
Pens: West 2, Francis
Yellow Card: Ranger
Melbourne Rebels: 15 Jack Debreczeni, 14 Jack Maddocks, 13 Tom English, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Jonah Placid, 10 Jackson Garden-Bachop, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Amanaki Mafi, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Steve Cummins, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Cruze Ah-Nau
Replacements: 16 Jordan Uelese, 17 Tom Moloney, 18 Tyrel Lomax, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Jake Schatz, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Sione Tuipulotu, 23 Ben Volavola
Blues: 15 Michael Collins, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 4 Jimmy Tupou (c), 3 Sione Mafileo, 2 Matt Moulds, 1 Pauliasi Manu
Replacements: 16 Hame Faiva, 17 Sam Prattley, 18 Charlie Faumuina, 19 Scott Scrafton, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Sam Nock, 22 George Moala, 23 Rene Ranger
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant Referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Will Houston (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)