The Blues need a replacement for the departing Piers Francis at 10 next season. They also need someone with the ability to close out tight games. The obvious answer just slotted a 45-metre 83rd-minute drop goal off the bench for the Crusaders, writes Jamie Wall.
Kicking drop goals isn’t really the kiwi way to win a game of rugby, but no one told Mitchell Hunt. For the second time this season, the backup first five – or more specifically, his boot – has been the last-play reason the Crusaders haven’t had to walk into a losing changing shed after 80 minutes.
Hunt’s 83rd minute strike isn’t just one of the best match-winners you’ll ever see, it’s one of the best drop goals ever full-stop. Off balance and 45 metres out, he struck it perfectly. Just like his 80th minute penalty against the Reds in Brisbane back in round 3, which again saved the Crusaders from defeat.
Hunt was starting in that game, but has been on the bench for the time being while the justifiably highly-rated Richie Mo’unga wears the 10 jersey. They’re both young and have long careers ahead of them, but unless one moves out to 12 they probably can’t coexist in the same squad for too long.
Meanwhile, up north the Blues have a different kind of first five problem – as in, they won’t have their current starter next year. Piers Francis, who is about to be capped for England, is heading back to his land of birth to the Northampton Saints next season. This leaves a gap in the Blues squad that Hunt could easily slot into.
The other first five on the Blues’ books is Ihaia West who, despite looking fantastic every now and then, has never made the role his own despite a few seasons worth of chances.
And the Blues’ biggest problem right now is their inability to close out games, so they could do with a guy who has ice in his veins at the business end. Right now Blues fans have had to put up with a run of losses like:
12-16 against the Highlanders in Round 2: no one could engineer a way through the defence despite a glut of possession in the last 10 minutes.
20-26 against the Highlanders in Round 7: again, no imagination in the final stages.
24-28 against the Hurricanes in Round 8: two heartbreaks in a row as they couldn’t close out a decent lead.
16-all against the Chiefs in Round 14: a clutch kick missed in the last five minutes doomed the Blues’ playoff hopes.
All losses and a draw have come against other NZ Conference teams. If they’d been slender wins rather than defeats, the NZ playoff picture would be looking very, very different. A kick made here, or a line break there and we’d be talking about how the Blues are still in contention rather than how they’ll fix their ills in the off season.
One potential answer is currently wearing the number 20 jersey down in Christchurch. A punt on Hunt wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.
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