Nearly 35,000 turned out on Sunday afternoon, as delighted Blues Super Rugby fans were back in the winning mood they have grown [a little] used to.
The 21-17 victory was tough on the field; the Chiefs may have suffered a series of losses but, they pushed the home side right to the final whistle. And the relief from players and fans, is giving the Auckland team more belief in the brilliant Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign.
Sitting currently in second place behind the Crusaders, unfamiliar but a deserved position. Recovering after twin defeats, the win at a packed Eden Park was ‘just what the doctor ordered’.
— The Blues (@BluesRugbyTeam) July 26, 2020
It has the fans delighted. The players are all smiles too. Rieko Ioane mentioned in a post-game soundbite that, “back in the winner’s circle.”
Happy, as are the coaches and Blues management too. The organization has emerged post-Covid in a strong position – the big crowd evidence of that. A great place to be in, back in a winning mood again.
Delighted Blues Super Rugby fans back in winning mood
Rebounding off the away loss to the Hurricanes, the victory was earned early at the Blues home ground. Harbour Rugby’s biggest name (aside from Bryn Hall) Matt Duffie certainly looked hungry, as he peeled through the Chiefs line, to blaze away for the first of three home team tries.
When the in-form Patrick Tuipulotu drove low and hard to cross for the second, a 14-0 lead had the fans in jubilation. After Finlay Christie added the team’s third, fist pumps from the coaches box are evidence that Leon MacDonald is enjoying this season just as much as the participants are.
With the high-paced action, one consideration is the attrition rate. With the Chiefs, and now the Hurricanes finding injuries an affect of the tough nature of the local derby games, keeping a full complement of players with good introduction from the bench, are keys to success.
And this Blues v Chiefs clash was just as hard as ever.
At the end of the game, MacDonald explained that “there were two teams out there that threw themselves into the first half. And I thought in the second half, the intensity and the speed of the game dropped considerably.
“We’re starting the see a little bit of wear and tear in every team.”
That observation could have been through awareness of how hard recovery is for each side. 80 minutes of football may mean players are still needing to recover on Monday [after a Sunday game], so managing the demand and smart use of player rotation, are key factors in the selection.
Some concerns will surround penalties. Harry Plummer was guilty of poor discipline, and luckily, his actions weren’t compounded by a last-minute Chiefs try. While the win was credible, right up to the last few minutes the Chiefs had an opportunity to claim a win.
Multiple attacks on the Blues tryline were finally thwarted by a concerted defensive effort. Their ability to stay resilient in defence is an ability that has served them well over the entire season. Tuipulotu credits his sides improved ‘D’ while losing Chiefs captain Sam Cane summed it up best. He exclaimed post-match, “it is a 100-meter field, but it is a game of inches.”
Blues captain playing from the front
Patrick Tuipulotu is surely the form lock in the competition. No big on words, he is Big on actions. Bone jarring tackles, defence that is more offensive than ever and hard to stop when close to the line, his assessment of the match was that it was close but that winning mood has put his team in a great position for Super Rugby Aotearoa.
“That’s the great thing about this comp. It’s really close. You’d say playing any New Zealand team it’s going to be Test Match intensity. It’s very fast and it’s very demanding.
“There’s a few teams that are still in it. And I’m looking forward to the next few weeks. It’s crunch time.” His sentiment will be equally felt now by the Hurricanes and the Crusaders captains; after the Wellington side traveled down to Christchurch and ‘shook up the competition’ with a well-engineered victory.
It was much needed in terms of offering sides some hope that even the Crusaders could be beaten. After 36 wins at home, it was a considerable ask but now Tuipulotu, the improved Ofa Tu’ungafasi (see main image), star Beauden Barrett and all the players may now feel they could replicate that result in the final round of Super Rugby Aotearoa, on August 9.
But first, they travel to Dunedin, to take on the Highlanders. A side who have been blindsided by some off-field social misconduct by a small group of player’s actions. By all reports, they and some friends behaved poorly after a Queenstown outing, and that will be a distraction that Aaron Mauger must manage to be sure his side are fully focused.
The 2020 Blues Super Rugby side are a huge challenge to meet. More so than ever before in recent history. They hope to come away from Forsyth-Barr Stadium with a bonus-point win – that is if the Highlanders do not prepare well.
A Blues win will certainly keep the competition open before they enjoy a Round Nine bye to heal some bruises from the constant derby battles. Ones that they are cherishing though, with this Blues Super Rugby team possibly playing at their absolute best right now.
Hurricanes provide fellow NZ teams with belief in defeating Crusaders
Even though TJ Perenara brushed aside comments that his side would have been relieved to finally get a win in Christchurch, it was a boost for all other NZ teams when his side won 32-34 over the three-time champions. A player who is big on confidence, the ‘Canes had belief that they could get the job done – and it proved true again, after a four-year drought.
Are you not entertained?!
What a win to take us into the bye week! Thanks for having us @crusadersrugby
— Hurricanes Rugby (@Hurricanesrugby) July 25, 2020
Entertainment has been one key factor, with over 60 points scored at Orangetheory Stadium, yet for their fellow conference sides, the fact that the Crusaders are defeatable, is music to their ears. Not occurring regularly, it might make next Saturday’s clash in Hamilton a tough one for Warren Gatland’s Chiefs, but it has been done.
Whichever side can now take their own belief into their fixture with the Crusaders – and work tirelessly to convert the limited opportunities the red-and-black side offer – can now see victory as a possibility.
A chink in the Crusader’s armour has been found. And it will be up to the Chiefs first, followed by Highlanders in Round Nine, followed the end of season matchup in Auckland, to determine if the 2021 version of the Crusaders can withstand a barrage from their local rivals.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images