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Blues vs Fijian Drua: Patrick Tuipulotu injured in Super Rugby Pacific quarter-finals

Caleb Clarke jumps for a try against Fijian Drua. Photo / Photosport

Blues36

Drua 5

By Liam Napier at Eden Park

In rugby, things don't always go to plan. But the Blues' progress to the quarter-finals was as predictable as the traffic jams in Auckland.

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However, their convincing, if patchy, victory may come at a price, with captain Patrick Tuipulotu suffering a potentially serious knee injury.

The difference in quality between the second and seventh placed Super Rugby Pacific qualifiers was laid bare at Eden Park on Saturday night as the Blues crushed Fijian Drua and brought them to their knees.

In their third consecutive semi-final appearance, their first under Vern Cotter, the Blues showed a dominant but far from polished performance and largely eliminated the Drua.

However, there are still six days until the semi-finals next Friday, but Tuipulotu is a concern after he was forced out midway through the first half with a knee injury.

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While newcomer James Thompson has stepped up and Sam Darry is due to return next week, Tuipulotu has shown inspirational, perhaps even career-best, form for the Blues this year, so his likely absence next week would be a major loss – and could have further implications for an area where the All Blacks' depth is most vulnerable in the post-Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock era.

All Blacks coach Scott Robertson will be nervous about this.

Dalton Papali'i led the attack on both sides of the ball for the Blues and Harry Plummer calmly pulled the strings. The Blues' scrum was a problem for the Drua and set the tone for their dominance. With ruthless defence, the Blues regularly forced turnovers but their handling and execution often let them down.

The Dura were constantly pinned in their half and had to take frequent penalties (at 14:7), which increased their difficulties.

With corner kicks, converted sideline kicks, throw-ins, an assist for the first of Caleb Clarke's double from the sideline and cross-field kicks, Plummer had control of the ball and led the Blues to an unassailable 22-0 halftime lead.

At this point the game was over.

Dalton Papali'i scores the first try against the Fijian Drua. Photo / Photosport

The Drua, who have failed to win their last 16 away games – including all eight this season – launched a courageous comeback in the second half.

Selestino Ravutaumada's only goal for the visitors two minutes after half-time elicited the loudest reaction of the evening from a large and boisterous group of Fijians in the 18,201 spectators.

Despite significantly improving their performance in the first half, the Drua were never able to catch the Blues.

Reaching the postseason marks a successful season for the Drua, but in the coming years they will need to somehow get their away problems under control to pose a real threat.

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With the win, the Blues will advance to host the first semi-final next Friday. If the Brumbies beat the Highlanders in the final quarter-final in Canberra on Saturday, the Blues will host the Brumbies in that knockout game.

If the Highlanders manage to pull off a surprise, the Blues will host the Chiefs instead.

The Hurricanes' 47-20 win in the quarter-finals secures them an additional rest day and, as league leaders, they will host the lowest-ranked qualifiers in Wellington next Saturday.

No matter who they face, the Blues are favourites after winning their last 14 games at Eden Park. The Crusaders are the only team to beat the Blues at home in the last four years.

However, Cotter will not be happy with his team's poor performance in the second half.

Once the result was decided, the Blues made another mistake by not putting their foot in it and not showing the necessary toughness to let the Drua back into the competition.

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With much tougher tests ahead, Cotter will demand more from his men.

Blues36 (Dalton Papali'i, Finlay Christie, Caleb Clarke 2, Kurt Eklund tries; Harry Plummer 3 Cons, Pen, Stephen Perofeta Contra)

Drua 5 (Attempt by Selestino Ravutaumada)

Halftime: 22-0