Sotutu, Sullivan score two tries each as Blues beat Fijian Drua 34-10 in Super Rugby Pacific

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WHANGAREI, New Zealand (AP) — Fiji rugby’s long season of success came to a sudden end Saturday when the Fijian Drua were beaten 34-10 by the Auckland-based Blues in the first round of Super Rugby Pacific.

Fans of Fiji have had much to celebrate over the past nine months as the Drua reached the Super Rugby quarterfinals for the first time last year and the Fiji national team went on to reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup, beating Australia on the way.

There was hope that that success would carry over into a new season for the Drua. But the Blues put an end to those hopes when they ran in five tries to lead 29-3 by halftime at Whangārei north of Auckland.

The Drua could count themselves a little unlucky. They started the match by carrying the ball for 21 phases before losing it near the Blues line. They then conceded a long series of penalties which gave the Blues field position and allowed them to use their powerful scrum close to the Drua goal line.

Winger Caleb Clarke scored under the posts as first receiver from one scrum and fullback Zarn Sullivan scored in the left corner from another. The Blues always were dangerous in the outside channels and captain Dalton Papali’i scored in the right corner when the Drua cover defense was fully stretched.

The Drua were unlucky to concede another try close to halftime when they muffed the clearance of an Angus Ta’avao charge down and backrower Hoskins Sotutu scored his second try of the half. He also scored the Blues first try at a breakdown on the Drua line.

The Drua’s only points of the first half came from a penalty to flyhalf Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula who also received a yellow card in his Super Rugby debut.

Blues scrumhalf Finlay Christie also was yellow carded at the start of the second half, in the play that led up to the Drua’s first try. The Drua tapped a penalty close to the Blues line and scored on the next phase through lock Leone Rotuisolia.

The Blues defense had begun to look vulnerable and had the Drua been able to take advantage of Christie’s time in the sin bin to score again, the might have been able to place the home team under pressure.

But the match meandered and almost 20 minutes passed before Sullivan’s second try increased the Blues’ lead to 34-10. The Blues’ backline transfer looked clunky at times Saturday but this was a slick move involving wingers Clarke and Mark Telea which ended with Sullivan scoring off an overlap in the right corner. The Blues were heavily dependent on Clarke and Telea for backline momentum.

“We had some moments when we were in form but there were some moments which were a bit scratchy,” Papali’i said. “At the end of the day, we know the Drua are going to bring it all. They play such a good style of football that you’ve got to be on all the time.

“They had moments when they put us under so much stress.”

The Blues have a new head coach this season; former Fiji national coach Vern Cotter has taken over from Leon MacDonald who has become an assistant to new All Blacks head coach Scott Robertson. The Drua also had four players on debut Saturday.

“We had lots of learning in this first game,” Drua captain Meli Derenalagi said. “We played pretty well but there are a lot of work-ons to do.”

Later, the Dunedin-based Highlanders came from behind to claim a 35-21 bonus-point win over Moana Pasifika.

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AP rugby: https://apnews.com/hub/rugby