‘Little shelter from the Storm’ – Blues Rugby team under Pressure

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'Little shelter from the Storm' - Blues Rugby team under Pressure
AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - APRIL 28: Tumua Manu of the Blues during the Super Rugby round 11 match between the Blues and Jaguares at Eden Park on April 28, 2018 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

Immediately after the 13-20 loss to the Jaguares, the knives were being sharpened. And with the Blues Rugby team under the gun for their dreadful second half, in reality they are out for good reason.

When your head coach admits that his players went away from the game plan, then all those hardcore Blues rugby team fans who suffered through the rain storm – they must too feel defeated.

Two sides of the argument have been present. ‘How can the Blues rugby team lose to the Jaguares?’ They now hold a horrid record; the first New Zealand franchise to be defeated by both the Jaguares and the Sunwolves. And ‘when will the Blues franchise emerge from their worse period in Super Rugby history?’

If history is any indicator, the decade of the 2010-2019 might be remembered as an utter failure. Only one appearance in the semi-finals, the poorest record of the NZ franchises [consistently from 2014] and inability to win regularly against the other local derby sides. The coaches have all been tarred with the same brush – all ex players, and Tana Umaga included, have had calls for them to be replaced.

Blues Rugby team under Pressure

Talking to Tana Umaga in the post-match media scrum, his indifference to the way his team were beaten, was clear to see. Even after the huge loss to the Sharks, Umaga could see some benefit in scoring 40 points [to the Sharks’ 63].

When asked by Last Word on Rugby, if after all the planning since November, from the gameplan and systems put in place, what had the side shown they could implement well? His reaction was limited. “Um, there were instances in that first half, where we showed patience. We ground them down, we want to be very efficient in the 22. We don’t have to throw passes all over the place, we just have to make good decisions in our core roles.”

In all honesty, that is not how the fans or commentators saw in the match. Passes were being thrown, where a more controlled team would have played for space. And the concern of stakeholders is that honest appraisal of players performance might soon need to now be made externally. For all the good intentions, any coach will admit that at some times, they are ‘too close to the subject’.

When the All Black coach is asked ‘when does he think the Blues might turn around their fortunes?’ even Steve Hansen struggles for a conclusion. He told media,”it’s something that’s going to take some time and there will be pain along the way.

“We are feeling for them, there’s no doubt about that.”

Knives out for Blues Rugby team

Unfairly or not, the derision for the Blues rugby team is similar to that which other teams in the game have felt. The Warriors or pre-Championship South Sydney Rabbitohs. If your side does not deliver, then soon enough the patience wears thin. The media’s role is to both celebrate but, to also question and criticize teams. It must not all be opinion though. Few enjoy opening the newspaper or online site, to just read ignorant castigation of teams (to make headlines). If the knives are out for the Blues, it has to be balanced.

If the team has reached it’s nadir, then why is that? It is not just because of a single nights result. The downfall of an rugby team does not occur in a single match. Whilst for years, the All Blacks could not secure a semi-final or Rugby World Cup finals place, they were still the standard over the balance of the four year cycle. The Blues sadly, have under performed for a long period.

This week especially, the sound of knives sharpening must have echoed through the players tunnel at Eden Park. So on Saturday, with the weather still poor after a rain-swept 24 hours, the chances of a quality performance waned. Look back on a cool, dry evening in 2016, when the Blues beat the Jaguares at QBE Stadium. That 24-16 win was built on hard work and showed that the Auckland team under Tana Umaga could close out matches.

On Saturday night however, they slipped-up on the wet ground instead of being solid in their stature. They could not maximize the advantage of a second half tailwind, And in all reality, might have thrown their season away. Becoming the first NZ franchise to lose to the Jaguares; 13-20.

Little shelter from the Storm for Fans

If rugby was your option for entertainment on Saturday in Auckland, then a warm coat and umbrella was necessary. When rain lashes Eden Park – besides a match with plenty of turned-over ball – the fans needed to run for cover.

The stadium terraces only provide so much cover. The so-called ‘drip line’ from where you can retreat to stay dry under, was a popular viewing point to watch a game from. The action was as determined by the conditions, as was the fans viewing positions – that is why the ground look so sparse. Fans were there, they just sat far back due to the conditions.

The concourse provided assured protection, especially after 60 minutes when it began to rain harder. Ponchos; coincidentally an article of clothing from a latin culture, was the popular choice if you stayed out in the weather. A choice few made Saturday, besides the hardy and the Jaguares supporters.

What action there was, did neither side any favours. The video highlights point to ‘ebs and flows’ in both possession and territory. That had something to do with the penalty count though. The Blues yielding 13, with five to open the match with.

Post game, head coach Tana Umaga lamented that count. “We just couldn’t stop giving them scrums close to our line, or line out opportunities. And that’s down to our discipline, and making errors.”

And when those errors are measured to the efforts of loyal fans to attend; in trying circumstances (in both weather and the Blues rugby teams’ form) it does little to ask them to return. When you cannot win at home, why should they?. Three home games, three losses. Very little to bring joy for Blues fans.

Eden Park relished the South American flavour

An element of Jaguares supporters did show up though. And the game and the venue, benefited from it. Eden Park relished the South American flavour, which is so unique and an element in Super Rugby to savour.

In comparison to the few isolated cries of “Go Blues” the chanting and song of the Jaguares supporters had this reporter walking down to feel the atmosphere. While they lost their voices once their shoes became soaked through, after 70 minutes, they rejoiced as their team scored their third try to secure the lead.

At the end of the match, the players knew where to find them….and Blues fans might be a little jealous, that the once famed ‘Eden Park experience’ has fallen away badly over this decade.

For Blues fans who braved the rain storm, they felt the pain of this loss. That is the point; whatever your nationality, when enthusiasm beats nature, that should be admired. In 2018, there is little to admire about the Blues Rugby teams performances.

That is not a jibe though. Not an attempt to make a single cut, as a thousand knives are being readied. It is the harsh reality of professional sport. After they complete the post-season self analysis, if management re-sign the head coach or not…. even the Blues will need to ask ‘what can we do to change this trend of losing?’

 

“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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