It's only been two weeks, but the Blues have already lost two games that they could've and probably should've won.
They began by losing to the Crusaders at home despite having two tries to their one. They almost won it in the final seconds with a drop goal, and their overall performance was not bad. They even managed to beat the Crusaders' scrum and run the ball well.
You can argue that the Crusaders are just that good, but they did it without Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and Zac Guildford. The Blues on the other hand had a fairly healthy roster, only missing Tony Woodcock and Ma'a Nonu from their starting line-up. Not to mention Eden Park had one of its biggest audiences in a long time. Considering the next meeting between the two will be in Canterbury, the Blues may look back at this game as one that got away.
But Week 2 was another story. The final scoreline doesn't even do justice to the Chiefs' dominance.
The Chiefs started fast, scoring 29 points in the first half, while only allowing six. Tim Nanai-Williams was an absolute terror and Aaron Cruden looked like Dan Carter. The Blues were outplayed in every facet of the game, whether it be at the breakdown, set piece or open play despite having talent at every level. They were left tackling at the air for most of the game and couldn't even win their own line-outs despite having the All Black trio of Kevin Mealamu, Ali Williams and Anthony Boric and couldn't win the scrums against a front row that was down to its third-string tighthead.
In the second half Pat Lam tried to inject some life into the Blues attack by putting Piri Weepu in at halfback. For a while the Blues looked like they were gaining some momentum, but it was only a matter of time until the Chiefs stepped up the pace again. Tawera Kerr-Barlow had some long breaks and Sam Cane terrorized the Blues breakdown. The Blues continued to threaten, only to have the ball taken away by either penalties or turnovers whenever they got close.
The Chiefs deserve credit though. The combo of Kerr-Barlow and Cruden did great job of marshaling the backline and kicking the ball. Craig Clarke did his best Victor Matfield impression in the line-outs, and their defensive line scrambled to every tackle. But the number of missed tackles, own line-outs lost and handling errors indicate that the Blues lost the game as much as the Chiefs won it.
If you're an NFL fan, you'll probably know about the Philadelphia Eagles' 2011 season. They had a number of key acquisitions in the defense which, coupled with their explosive offense led by MVP candidate Michael Vick, was supposed to make them a Super Bowl contender. Vince Young even called them the Dream Team.
Their defense was average at best, their offense and former MVP candidate was a mistake machine, and the Eagles missed the playoffs despite playing in a division where no team reached double-digit wins.
Right now, that's what the Blues look like. They acquired Ma'a Nonu and Piri Weepu in the summer and boast a roster with 14 All Blacks in it, including New Zealand Player of the Year Jerome Kaino.
Weepu is their Michael Vick. He was a nominee for IRB International Player of the Year last year and came into this season with a lot of hype. In his first game he was terrible in his defense and looked out of shape. In Week 2 he definitely looked a lot better, but still couldn't inspire the Blues to a comeback.
Again, it's only Week 2, but the New Zealand conference looks to be incredibly competitive this year. The Blues have already dug themselves a two-loss hole and head off to South Africa next week, which is another challenge in itself.
They will receive some help in the form of Nonu's debut in the blue jersey. The Blues need to get something in the win column soon, or else this may end up being just another disappointing season. Pat Lam, us Aucklanders want to see another title. You've got the goods, now use 'em.
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