Blues thrash Hurricanes
February 22, 2002

The Auckland Blues have started their Super 12 revival with a 60-7 bath of the Wellington Hurricanes in Wellington on Friday night.

The once mighty Blues, who won the first two Super 12 titles in 1996 and 1997, reached new lows in 2001 and some considered lucky to finish as high as 11th.

But what a difference a year can make. The Blues extended their winning advantage over the Hurricanes to 7-0 and this eight-try victory was the biggest. It wasn't a complete performance by the Blues with a few problems at the kick-off, but it was pretty close with a stunning display of finishing.

While Wellington fans will go on all day about the skills of their backline with names like Christian Cullen, Jonah Lomu (who did not get on the field until 10 minutes into the second half) and Tana Umaga, they were forced to take a back seat against the lightning quick Blues quartet of fullback Malili Muliaina, wingers Rupeni Caucaunibuca and Doug Howlett (pictured) and outside centre Rico Gear.

Caucaunibuca, who came into the game on the back of an eight-try effort against the Reds and Waratahs during trials, is expected to give the try-scoring record a shake this season, but it was the experienced Howlett who took the early lead with four tries. Caucaunibuca crossed for two and while not getting on the scoreboard, the insightful running of Muliaina and Gear created plenty of problems for the Wellington defence.

Veteran Blues flyhalf Carlos Spencer, one of only two survivors from the Auckland side of 1996, was also instrumental giving his side more direction in this one game than it showed for the entire season last year. In the forwards, No 8 Ron Cribb was another making up for a disappointing end to 2001 with a dominant performance.

The Blues led 27-0 at half time after Howlett started the rout in the second minute of the game when the Blues capitalised on Wellington's failure on halfway to clean up an Auckland clearance kick.

Blues second-rower Troy Flavell became the first person in the 2002 Super 12 to be sent to the sin-bin in the 12th minute, but the loss mattered little with Howlett crossing for his second try before Flavell had returned to the field.

The score blew out to 46-0 after 62 minutes and it wasn't until the 67th minute that local fans had something to shout about when halfback Jason Spice squeezed over. Until that point the Hurricanes had nothing.

They were outplayed by the speed of the Blues pack and it was only the usual suspects of Umaga in the midfield and fullback Christian Cullen trying to spark any of their team's attack. Despite the scoreline, Wellington officials will take some comfort from the performance of Cullen after a forgettable 2001.

Scorers:

Blues - Tries: Doug Howlett (4), Rupeni Caucaunibuca (2), Mark Mayerhofler, Troy Flavell; Conversions: Carlos Spencer (6), James Arlidge (1); Penalties: Spencer (2).

Hurricanes - Try: Jason Spice; Conversion: James Arlidge.

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