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'Disappointing': Leon MacDonald calls out 'stupid' mistakes from Blues win

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images)

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Blues head coach Leon MacDonald is satisfied to have banked four competition points with a win over Moana Pasifika, but he isn’t overly pleased with how his side attained their victory.

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The more established and highly-favoured Blues overcame a strong Moana Pasifika performance to claim a 32-19 win in the first-ever edition of Auckland’s cross-town Super Rugby Pacific derby at Mt Smart Stadium on Tuesday.

However, the visitors were made to work hard for their victory as Moana Pasifika came close to clinching a second straight win after bagging their first-ever victory, against the Hurricanes, just four days beforehand.

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After holding a 19-5 lead at half-time, the Blues were forced to withstand a barrage of attack from Moana Pasifika, who struck constantly through their lineout and rolling maul after gaining ascendency early in the second half.

The hosts crossed for one try via loosehead prop Abraham Pole, and were unfortunate not to have scored twice more when second-five Solomone Kata and hooker Luteru Tolai were denied by the officials.

Moana Pasifika could have even scored a fourth try within 10 minutes after returning to the field, but some staunch Blues defence forced their counterparts into touch from a rolling maul.

MacDonald said after the match that his side’s ability to withstand a fourth wave of Moana Pasifika attack proved to be a crucial point in the game, especially as they were able to turn their opponents around and score a try of their own shortly afterwards.

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However, the Blues boss was unimpressed that his troops allowed Moana Pasifika to build as much momentum as they did so soon after half-time.

“I’d say we knew we were in a battle, and there was some tense moments that’s for sure,” MacDonald said of the match, which his side won even after Nepo Laulala was sent off for connecting his shoulder with Fine Inisi’s head at a second half ruck.

“A red card put us under more pressure, and we were able to stop the maul and cut that off, which was a big play at a critical time, and able to get down the other end and execute, so we were able to grab a couple of key moments and turn the game.

“It was always going to be a close game, I think. We prepared like that and got what we thought we’d get.

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“We didn’t want to let them in through discipline or errors, and we did that, so that’s a bit disappointing, but we’ll have to learn a quick lesson because we’re about to do it all again in a couple of days. Hopefully we’re quick learners.”

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MacDonald reserved judgement about the verdict that resulted in Laulala’s dismissal near the hour mark, but didn’t hold back about the performance of his players – some of whom impressed and some of whom didn’t.

“I think there’s some players who have put their hand up and done a really good job,” MacDonald said after fielding an almost entirely new starting team, largely made up of rookies and youngsters, from the side that beat the Highlanders last Saturday.

“I thought Anton Segner was fantastic at 8 in his first start, and young Taufa Funaki did a good job at 9, so a couple of guys really put their hand up, I thought.

“A couple of other guys probably got a bit of a rude awakening to what Super Rugby’s all a little bit about and the intensity needed and the accuracy needed.

“A lot of our guys have been short of rugby in the last 12 months, with Covid etc, and it probably showed today.”

With only a four-day turnaround before the Blues and Moana Pasifika square off again at Eden Park, MacDonald conceded there is little time to overhaul their tactics and preparation for their rematch on Saturday.

In saying that, MacDonald urged his players to cut the “stupid” errors out of their game that enabled Moana Pasifika to force their way back into the contest.

“We had a plan of being really clinical in the second half, and then we kicked the ball out on the full and then we had the stupid offside within one minute. You get what you deserve when you start giving away easy ins like we did,” MacDonald said.

“We’ll be pretty honest in our review. We’ve got to turn around pretty quickly, and we’re back home this time, but I bet the crowd’s just as noisy at Eden Park as it is 10 minutes down the road here, so we’ve got to be ready for that.”

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