Winning Blues team ‘scramble well’ as others trip and stumble

Coming off a victory over the Chiefs, head coach Leon MacDonald said of his winning Blues team that, they ‘scrambled well’ while other NZ sides suffered losses this Super Rugby round.

In a strange sequence – one which few can ever recall it happening before – the Blues were the lone New Zealand franchise winner in Round 14. Incredible, as it had not occurred since 2013 although the Crusaders drew their match (so did not lose). But there is little denying that the Hurricanes, Highlanders and the Chiefs, all suffered a trip-up on the way to the completion of the regular season.

Trips and stumbles that cannot be afforded. 

Buoyant head coach Leon MacDonald was very pleased with his winning Blues team. He told the gathered media post-game that “while it was a little stop-start, we scrambled well”. A true statement, as handling errors from both sides stemmed much continuity. But near the end, two Blues tries earned the hosts an extremely valuable bonus point victory, 23-8.

Winning Blues team ‘scramble well’ as others lose

The Blues will be the first to say they are relieved by a local derby win. This one specifically, as it had been eight years since their first over the Chiefs [since 2011]. Besides the odd draw, adding to the earlier victory over the Highlanders, it reverses the trend from last week.

But the positives that MacDonald and his side will take are the four tries scored. Two in each half, and in halting an expecting Chiefs fightback, MacDonald remarked that they had “great reward from this game. If you want to be a serious contender in this competition you’re going to have to work really hard for 80 minutes every week”. And the Blues maximized their possession and territorial superiority, to the best effect.

Contentious decisions aside; with Colin Cooper emphasizing how the Ofa Tu’ungafasi try needed to be checked, and he didn’t see much to not award the Pita Gus Sowakula effort. But most sides can make arguments for and against decisions. But the massive territorial and possession advantage from the Blues was evidence enough.

What a difference a week makes. In Super Rugby 2019, it seems the ‘flick of a coin’ could determine fans picks. Pundits will talk about certainties, but even a winning Blues team judgment was almost a 50/50 call. The fact that the top 12 sides can all appear to be in contention for the 2019 Finals Series.

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Other NZ Conference teams fail to take opportunities

The Bulls traveled to Australia, beginning their four-week tour. In defeating the Melbourne Rebels on Friday, it seemed to give the Highlanders a prime opportunity – gather a win over the Lions, and they would leapfrog others.

Perfect motivation it seemed, yet it was not to be.

The Dunedin-based team did little to promote its confidence-based style of rugby. One where they grow stronger the more the side gains in superiority. Their biggest problem in Johannesburg – possibly each time they travel to the Republic – is that they bleed too many points to build any confidence.

A 38-29 loss was compounded by rulings and discipline that saw even more penalties and missed tackles that benefitted the hosts. It meant the ‘Landers self-destructed’ at the hands of a different Smith….Kwagga Smith, and will likely rue their missed chances.

On the other hand, the higher placed NZ conference teams are far more assured in their positions. Whether that played a part in the Hurricanes thought processes though, which were less precise than fans would have hoped. They began well, with Laumape setting up Vaea Fifita, but that was the biggest shot they fired against the Jaguares.

A fired up South American side had a clear goal; add to the growing record of wins against NZ franchise teams. They ticked off the Chiefs and Blues in 2018, and accomplished a ‘Canes treble of wins, with honours taken well on Friday night.

Later, the NSW Waratahs would hold down their northern neighbours, to continue a long record of defeating the Queensland Reds. It meant they would still be a threat to the NZ conference sides securing more than three places, as they have so comfortably in the past.

Draw not the result Crusaders supporters expected

Across in South Africa, you have to hand it to the Stormers. Expectation was high for a win to the visitors; whose Africa fanbase were ever-present, yet the home side did extremely well.

When at home, the championship holding Crusaders appear to make passes stick, get the bounce of the ball and the cheers of the crowd. Yet in Cape Town, few of those elements combined.

David Havili of the Crusaders gets his pass away as Damian Willemse of the Stormers makes the tackle on May 18. (Photo by Shaun Roy/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

Above, David Havili fails to offload before a blunt tackle. Those milliseconds were taken away from the Crusaders. With Kieran Read removed before the game, it made for the opportune time for the Stormers to bounce-back. Not a poor South African side, but after an unsatisfactory offshore trip, Robbie Fleck’s men were the stronger side on the day.

Note: without undermining the TMO, it is hard not to communicate the public sentiment of why Jack Goodhue’s midfield pass to Sevu Reece was judged to be forward. Replays; and the laws on what constitutes the geometry of a forward pass, are clear. Yet it corrected a reply from the nine-time Champions. They were stopped short, and ill-discipline cost them another drawn result.

Expectation is something every Super Rugby has to contend with. A winning Blues team may have ‘scrambled’ well to earn a sole NZ team victory however, their fans are prepared for the worse. But others like the Rebels, Brumbies, Lions, and Sharks all suffer the same.

It is how those sides play over the next month, that will see any of them avoid placing themselves outside the top eight.


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