Four days after they returned from a successful two-match tour of South Africa, the Blues were quietly reflective after their 24-15 victory, their first away derby win since February, 2013.
It probably isn’t surprising given the pressure they were under in the first half and added to that was the pace the Hurricanes were attempting to play at. They wanted to step on the gas, but ultimately the wheels fell off for the home side.
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“It’s a tired and subdued changing shed,” coach Leon MacDonald said. “I think the guys are spent. A win away from home is normally cause for celebrations but I think they nearly want to lie down on the ground.”
The naysayers may suggest the victory that broke the drought was purely down to the 47th-minute red card for prop Tyrel Lomax shown for his shoulder charge to the head of Stephen Perofeta and the yellow cards to loose forward Vaea Fifita (shoulder charge) and fullback Jordie Barrett (intentional knock-on) in the final 10 minutes.
But that would ignore a brilliantly committed defensive effort from the visitors, who soaked up an early try for Ben Lam and a first quarter during which they hardly saw the ball.
The response on attack was impressive too and the Hurricanes may have seen a player in the bin far earlier due to the way they attempted to kill the Blues’ ball. As it was, Akira Ioane, in his first start of the season, was over a crucial converted try just before break.
“We’ve taken a lot of pride in our defence this year,” MacDonald said. “Tana [Umaga] has done a really good job there in building a real identity in our defence. Our game wasn’t perfect – we missed a few lineouts and made a few errors – but we hung in there and were able to strike back late in the second half. We felt like we were getting our game going.”
As he reflected on a remarkable last few weeks during which the Blues have beaten the Bulls, Stormers and Hurricanes, and will fancy their chances against the Lions at Eden Park next Saturday afternoon, MacDonald was right to focus on the remarkable cover tackle by flanker Blake Gibson on Hurricanes’ first-five Fletcher Smith late in the second half.
“Critical,” he called it, and there was deserved praise for No8 Ioane too because he was brutal at times on defence.
“Aki was outstanding. He hasn’t played much rugby since the Mitre 10 Cup. He’s in good nick and we’re really fortunate with the depth we’ve got.”
Wing Mark Telea, who scored in the left corner in the second half, was again one of their best attacking weapons and while the Blues conceded a try shortly afterwards following a defensive scrum, their composure never left them, although attempting a dropped goal in the final minutes when they had a three-man advantage prompted a wry smile from MacDonald.
“It’s been a tough week,” he said. “I don’t think we closed it out that well but we got there in the end.”
Loose forward Tom Coventry – who left the field with concussion – appears the Blues’ only injury concern.
As for the red card for Lomax, MacDonald felt the decision was clear-cut.
“We know if you’re making contact with peoples’ heads that straight away you’re in the firing line and we’ve had our issues,” he said. “We’ve had guys yellow carded for high tackles. It puts the referee under pressure to make a decision.”
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