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Blues defence the key to big win: Umaga

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 23/02/2017

Tana Umaga © Getty Images Tana Umaga They scored seven tries but Blues coach Tana Umaga is hailing their defensive fortitude following a sparkling 56-18 dissection of the Melbourne Rebels.

Boom centre Rieko Ioane scored a hat-trick as the visitors dominated the second half 31-3 and delivered an emphatic statement in the opening match of the Super Rugby season.

Umaga was thrilled with the 56 points, which is the most they have scored in a game for seven seasons and their most-ever in Australia.

However, keeping the Rebels scoreless for the last 39 minutes meant even more.

Defence has been a particular focus under new assistant coach Alastair Rogers, while Umaga is also anxious his team doesn't repeat the second-half fades which blotted several of the matches last year.

"We saw there were a lot of nerves at the start of the game," Umaga said.

"We were happy with how we came back in the second half which is something we have been working on.

"And the team has worked hard on our defensive structures with Alastair which is credit to what he has done but also to the boys and the way they have bought into it and are now starting to understand it."

An Ioane intercept on the stroke of halftime gave the Blues a flattering 25-15 lead.

The 19-year-old blossomed in the second spell showcasing why he won his first two Test caps on the All Blacks' season-ending tour last year.

Chiefs recruit Augustine Pulu was outstanding at halfback while Bristol-bound blindside flanker Steven Luatua showed what a loss he will be next season with a dynamic 80 minutes.

Umaga, who brought George Moala and Charlie Faumuina off the bench, didn't have the services of two other All Blacks - captain Jerome Kaino and lock Patrick Tuipulotu.

The coach is keeping his feet on the ground, recalling other recent campaigns have started with a bang but tailed off.

However, Umaga admitted he couldn't have asked for a better start and was pleased a gruelling off-season had reaped rewards.

"Our preparation and hard work that our players and staff have put in over the last three months in the pre-season was the key," he said.

"What impressed me was our ability to come back and gain some composure and trust the systems that they've been working on so hard."

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