In yet another narrow finish, the Chiefs v Blues local derby was an exciting fixture with the two traditional rivals competing in the second of their inter-conference match. The Waikato side got the better of the Auckland team, yet the two coaches reaction shows how closely fought it was on the field.
Colin Cooper told reporters that “our performance in that second half was outstanding. The way we won that and ground that game down, because the Blues aren’t a bad team.”
And next week, he faces another tough local derby game: the Hurricanes, in Wellington. “They’re playing some great rugby, so we just have to work out how we’re going to go into battle with them,” Cooper said of the Hurricanes – a team he coached between 2003-2010.
And Cooper will have a faint bit of sympathy for his opposite last night. Tana Umaga – even though he had a smile, thanks to the much improved performance over last weeks capitulation – was struggling to take in the fact his team lost ‘yet again’.
Narrow finish in Chiefs v Blues Local Derby
If fans from north of the Bombay Hills still had belief in their side, then the nature of the narrow finish must be galling. In holding the lead for a lot of the match, the fanbase will have been ecstatic with a prospect of a rare win over the Gallagher Chiefs.
The match timeline will only describe scoring movements, yet as the visitors accumulated penalty kicks, before a try for captain James Parsons, it meant the Blues entered the sheds at halftime leading 14-19.
But the intensity of the game is where the real evidence is told. The Chiefs appeared to have all the running; in fact making 569 meters carried to the Blues 247. That is twice the amount of ball, with 60% possession. But to their credit, the Blues were resolute in defence.
That was, right up to the final quarter. Unfortunately, a constant Achilles heel was exposed – discipline. Both sides were guilty of conceding penalties over the match but, when pressured in the last minutes, the outcome could have been foretold. Punctuated as much when after 68 minutes, Blues lock Josh Goodhew undid all his good work. Charged for cynical play, he was sent from the field of play.
Yellow Card reinforces the basic rule – 14 men cannot defeat 15
Still defending stoically, the Blues were under the pump. And a defensive scrum, within meters of the tryline resulted in a back having to assist in the forward drive. That effort failed, the scrum wheeled and faltered, as referee Paul Williams judged it a penalty try.
It was a seven point swing, handing the Chiefs a narrow 21-19 win. And while the infringement is often argued against, in the context of the result, the momentum was in the Chiefs favour. Just as the Hurricanes had made a huge comeback, the weight of possession and territory was impossible to hold back. 14 men cannot defeat 15 [in most cases]. And the reaction from Blues players, was of disappointment.
But for Tana Umaga and his coaching side to turn losses into wins, they need to maintain a full compliment of players, not offend as obviously on their line, and then a win against the Chiefs is possible. Some might even say, they looked the better side….that the Chiefs were lucky! Yes, a win is not too far away, according to their head coach.
“We don’t believe it’s too far away”
The story of the game though; as much as how poor at times that the Chiefs operated, was that the Blues can virtually do everything right for 74 minutes, only for the ‘one little thing’ to come unstuck. There maybe heartbreak in the Queens City, yet they cannot beat themselves up too badly – a performance like that, would defeat more than most professional rugby teams.
Injuries could count in Week 9
The sub-plot of the Chiefs v Blues local derby, was the continuing injury toll. The Chiefs have been hit hard, and will not want any more to add to that list.
Star player Damian McKenzie was substituted off, after only 31 minutes. He appeared to be holding a hip injury. It was a deep cut, and would have contributed to the difficulty that the Chiefs found in defeating the Blues. With that player lost, senior men like Anton Lienert-Brown and the first-year Chief Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, who had a fine match, drove the side.
The forwards also stood tall, as senior leader Liam Messam demonstrated the experience that comes with 300 first class rugby games. Some were looking forward to his challenge against his old Blues foe, but that was cut short by injury.
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Jerome Kaino left the field early. His was an hamstring, and at the senior players age, they do not repair themselves as quickly. But post-game, the two Warriors met for (what could be) the final time in Super Rugby.
Umaga will need Kaino back for this season, yet it might too be a time for the junior men to assume the command. Akira Ioane has taken-up the number eight role, so it is up to men like Jimmy Tupou, Murphy Taramai and Kara Pryor to pull together, before they travel north for the Sunwolves match next week.
An important match psychologically. A win is needed, to overturn the horrible performance of 2017. Play well, and the loose forward group, as much as the full squad, can go some way to retaining fans and supporters belief.
And that is an important factor. As important as controlling their discipline, and like the Chiefs will, in managing injuries ahead of Week 9 of the continuing Super Rugby 2018 season.
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