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'Defence wins championships': Blues on the brink of historic feat

By Ned Lester
Highlanders centre Tanielu Tele'a is tackled by the Blues. Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images

The Blues have risen to the top of the Super Rugby Pacific pecking order with their streak of wins since round three’s loss to the Hurricanes.

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With just the one loss to their name in 2024, the Aucklanders have not just proved their attacking flair can score with the best of the rest, but their defence is on track to be the second most suffocating in Super Rugby history – among eventual champions.

The 2008 Crusaders hold the top spot on that list, having allowed just 14 points per game during their season.

The 2024 Blues have an average of 15.5 points conceded throughout the 13 rounds of action so far. The team travel to Christchurch to play the Crusaders and host the Chiefs at Eden Park to round out the regular season.

“I just think they’re working incredibly well together as a unit,” Sir John Kirwin said on The Breakdown when reacting to the statistic.

“If you look at Akira Ioane’s form, he is really going well on defence. Normally, we’d see him running out wider and being a bit free, but this season he’s been defending really well, and made some big hits (against the Highlanders), so there’s no one resting in that defensive line.

“And we all know that defence wins championships. It’s just fact.”

Defence

102
Tackles Made
160
10
Tackles Missed
22
91%
Tackle Completion %
88%

The team’s experience and chemistry have grown a lot as they have enjoyed consistency of selection over a number of seasons, no doubt influencing their defensive cohesion.

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“They’ve got 10 or so players over 50 caps now, guys like Dalton (Papali’i) have matured, he’s been a leader. Patrick (Tuipulotu) has come back in and he’s led.

“I think they’ve just realised that they’ve got to work really hard together and they’re nailing the scrum. When you start to get some cracks, you actually start worrying about going to the next lineout and not the defensive line. But, they’re doing all those other little things well which means you can concentrate on doing your job.”

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Kirwin added a big lesson from the competition’s perennial champions, the Crusaders, would have to stick with the Blues if they are to go on to claim the title.

“The Crusaders knew how to win even when they weren’t necessarily the best in the 80 minutes. The Blues also need to take that calmness around defence into the final.”

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That point about the Crusaders’ success was echoed by Kirwin’s co-host and fellow All Blacks great Jeff Wilson.

“When I think defence, I think one, two, three, four and five,” he said. “Their front row and locks have gone about their work on the inside channel, and they just don’t concede.

“Yes, I know Dalton Papali’i is world-class, Hoskins Sotutu has done in Super Rugby what he’s done for a few years, he’s dominated this level and we’ve seen some great work, some better work from Akira Ioane.

“Adrian Choat comes off the bench but (Laghlan) McWhannell, (Sam) Darry, (Patrick) Tuipulotu, (Ofa) Tu’ungafasi, (Angus)Ta’avao, (Ricky) Riccitelli, (Soane) Vikena; all of a sudden that tight five is operating at a level. The scrum has been really good, lineout drive defence has been great.

“The Highlanders felt it, they got to the 50th-minute mark and they just couldn’t hang on, they couldn’t stay with them. And that wasn’t even the top Blues side.

“This is an impressive defensive stanza, how many titles have the Crusaders got? This is what they won their titles on.”

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6 Comments
F
Flatcoat 34 days ago

The difference is Cotter..

J
Jonathan Gil 35 days ago

Ned me old shinwah, it’s probably not a bad idea to learn how to spell the last names of great All Blacks wingers. (Otherwise we will demean our memories of Grant Bitty, Jonah Lima, Joe Rococo and Doug Howler.)

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Turlough 1 hours ago
'Let them keep talking' - Mike Catt claps back over Bok remarks

“You want that – not hatred – but whatever it is that stirs it all up. It’s good.” Agree with this. If you can put a common motivating idea in all your players heads during a game it can produce a real Team perfromance. Erasmus is pretty expert at this. It is quite clear that the comments by Etzebeth, Allende and others were not coincidence and were actioned to create animoisty before the series in order to galvanise the South African mind set. While I understand it, I don’t like it. They result in unnessary vitriol between supporters and for what? I don’t think any of the SA players seriously believe any of these claims and with Ireland ignoring them Erasmus won’t get the escalation he seeks. The vitriol shown by some SA and indeed NZ supporters is extremely weird for NH supporters (OK, maybe England have felt it) but it just feels very odd over a sport. Ireland were more or less sh1t for the first 100 years of their rugby, they have improved significantly in the last 25 to be in a position around now (it may not last) to go into a match with the big guns with a real shot of winning. The reaction to this from some SH supporters has been bizarre with conspiracy theories of ‘Arrogance’ fueling abuse from supporters and even NZ players to Irish crowds during the world cup. I love International rugby and the comraderie between supporters. I genuinely dread and dislike the atmosphere around games with the southern giants. They take this very personally. NH teams: play them, try and beat them, enjoy the craic with their players and supporters and wish them well. SH teams wish them well and they call you arrogant in the press months later. Its just a matter of try and beat them and then good riddance til the next time.

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