Blues open Super Rugby season with 56-18 win over Rebels

MELBOURNE, Australia — Bustling center Rieko Ioane crossed for three tries as the Auckland Blues kicked off the 2017 Super Rugby season with a thumping 56-18 win over the Rebels on Thursday night, securing their first win in Melbourne.

In a low-key opener in front of 10,265 people at AAMI Park, the Rebels pushed Auckland in the first half and trailed by 10 points at the break. But the gulf in class and fitness between the franchises from New Zealand and Australia was overwhelming in the second half as the Blues piled on the points.

Auckland finished with seven tries to two against the error-prone Rebels, who turned over too much possession and slipped off too many important tackles.

Blues coach Tana Umaga said the win, Auckland's biggest ever against the Rebels, was the culmination of a thorough pre-season.

"It's just the first game of the season and there's still a lot of things to work on," Umaga said. "But the pleasing thing for us is that we stayed in the fight and we came out the other end with the rewards."

Melbourne had a setback early when skipper Nic Stirzaker left the field following a head knock not long after scoring the home team's firstry try in the seventh minute, joining an extensive injury list that includes Wallabies Sean McMahon and James Hanson. The Rebels had won their previous four season-opening matches.

The Hamilton-based Chiefs and the 2015 champion Highlanders will meet in an all-New Zealand opener and the Queensland Reds will host the Durban-based Sharks in Friday's matches.

The defending champion Hurricanes will travel to Tokyo to open against the Sunwolves.

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