Lions Given the Blues at Eden Park
In the Blues, we had one of the disappointments of the competition against the vastly improving Lions; whom nearly upset the inform Chiefs last week.
For the Auckland based franchise, two consecutive losses at the Northern stronghold of New Zealand rugby—Eden Park—had coach Pat Lam signalling a return to basics this weekend.
There would have been significant soul searching this week. His freewheeling side were coming off their bye, and it was said within the Blues camp there was focus on the key elements of a rugby team.
To the point where Lam was saying it would be wise for his men to emulate fellow Kiwi sides the Crusaders and Highlanders. Both these teams are winning because they are doing the basics and grinding.
The Lions, despite their low position on the table, are a far better team than their positioning indicates. They have started a good midseason run, downing the Brumbies at home, giving the Hurricanes a fright in a six-point loss, before leading the Chiefs by 19 before being run down.
A lot of this was due to the presence of two of their Springboks, playmaker Andre Pretorius and centre Jacque Fourie, who has been the competitions form No. 13 in the last month.
In the opening minutes, it appeared this game was going to be more of the same from the Blues, with the best try scoring record and the worst trying to concede statistics.
For all of their attacking class, they have been mistake ridden, and five-handling errors in the first few minutes showed why Lam and their faithful have been frustrated with the three-time champions.
But it appeared to only be a case of match rustiness, as the Blues began to take control of the contest, stretching out a 14-0 advantage before going into the sheds for oranges.
While still technically a title contender, many would say that their lack of polish and structure is what separates them from the premier teams in the tournament. If this is the case, then Lam knows exactly what he needs to do, tell his talented team to cut down on the looser play.
It was this that made them stretch away in the second half, taking the ball into contact and building the phases, instead, of looking for the 50/50 passes. Four tries in the second half saw them collect not only the win, but a valuable four try bonus point and correcting their previously poor point’s differential.
Still, the Blues danger is their inherent flowing style, for despite the win they still made nearly 20 handling errors and turned over the ball 28 times. Their challenge is to find a healthy medium. This win puts them outside of the top four on point’s difference only. With three home games still to finish the season, their season is within their own hands.
With Ali Williams and Tony Woodcock to return next week, they are still in a strong position despite a mixed season, although they closed the match with a solid injury toll, with Chris Smylie, Tasesa Lavea, John Afoa and Josh Blackie all picking up knocks.
For the Lions, they were disappointing considering their increased showings in the last month.
They still have two tricky matches on the road, but against the Reds and Force, they have the ability to at least take one scalp on the remainder of an always difficult South African road trip.
They do close the season with three home matches, and they have shown glimpses they are a far better team than just a couple of wins would indicate.
Key Statistics: (Blues – Lions)
Territory: 68 - 32
Possession: 59 - 41
Turnovers conceded: 28 -16
Missed tackles: 8 -35
Tackles made: 71 - 133
Mins in opp 22: 15 - 4
Handling errors: 18 - 9
Blues 36 (HT 14)
Tries: Smylie, Tuitavake, Wulf 2, Rokocoko, Saili
Cons: Toeava 3/6
Lions 12 (HT 0)
Tries: Mentz, Vermark
Cons: Pretorius 1/2
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