James Parsons celebrated his elevation to Auckland Blues captain by leading the side to a 36-30 victory over the hard-finishing Melbourne Rebels in a Super Rugby clash in Auckland on Friday.
The Blues outscored the Rebels six tries to four, but were given a fright in the closing stages as the desperate Australian visitors made big inroads into an 18-point deficit.
They scored two late tries and were a whisker away from a possible match-winning third when penalised in a line-out drive on the tryline.
“My heart’s still racing. Obviously we didn’t close it out as we would have liked,” a relieved Parsons said when interviewed five minutes after the final whistle.
“We will take confidence from this. We didn’t finish well but there were some good things and we’re excited for the trip to Africa,” he added as the Blues head to South Africa to play the Southern Kings and Golden Lions.
It was the fourth win from eight games for the Blues, who remain bottom of the New Zealand conference, while the Rebels started the game as the top Australian side and now have five wins from nine outings.
Parsons had mixed fortunes to start his reign as Blues captain after Jerome Kaino relinquished the leadership during the week.
He gifted the Rebels their opening eight points, first with a wobbly pass that Reece Hodge snapped up for a try and then giving away a penalty that was neatly slotted by Jack Debreczeni.
Parsons atoned for his sins by crashing over from close range for the Blues’ first try which woke his side up from their slumbering start.
Kaino, Charlie Faumuina and Ihaia West all scored as the Blues piled on 24 points in a 16-minute burst in which the Rebels managed only one more Debreczeni penalty.
West’s try stunned the Rebels straight from the restart after the second Debreczeni three pointer.
Blues back-rower Steven Luatua recovered the kick-off, fed Patrick Tuipulotu who carried the ball up to the line for West to finish off the move.
The Rebels struck back with a crucial Jordy Reid try from a line-out drive on the stroke of half-time, reducing the gap to 24-18 at the turn only for the Blues to resume their scoring spree from the restart.
Tevita Li and Lolagi Visinia crossed in quick succession to lift the Blues to 36-18 with nearly half an hour remaining.
But they could not hold their dominance, allowing the Rebels to surge back in the closing 15 minutes with tries from Colby Fainga’a and Sefanaia Naivalu ensuring the visitors at least finished with a bonus point.