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Leon MacDonald's selection ploy that inspired the Blues' last-gasp win over the Bulls in Pretoria

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

By Patrick McKendry, NZ Herald

Leon MacDonald has called his triple playmaker experiment a success as the Blues held their nerve in a deserved comeback victory against the Bulls in Pretoria.

They go to Cape Town for a match against the unbeaten Stormers next Sunday with confidence boosted after their 23-21 victory, a win helped to a large extent by first-five Otere Black, one of those playmakers under the spotlight. It was Black who kicked the winning points after the final siren, a high-pressure moment for a man on the comeback trail himself.

Before that moment of truth, assisting him in his task of creating the opportunities they couldn’t find against the Crusaders at Eden Park last weekend were second-five Harry Plummer and fullback Stephen Perofeta.

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The latter in particular was impressive in difficult, slippery conditions; he scored a crucial try in the second half which allowed the Blues to overtake the Bulls and silenced the Loftus Versfeld crowd and was as safe as an Auckland house price under the high ball.

The Bulls, taking advantage of a yellow card for No 8 Hoskins Sotutu for two dangerous tackles – harsh in MacDonald’s mind and those probably of most neutral observers – struck back with a converted try for Jeandre Rudolph with nine minutes remaining before Black’s late intervention.

It was little more than the visitors deserved given their three tries to two advantage. Wing Mark Telea showed good strength to dot down in the corner and flanker Tom Robinson showed similar attributes in driving over from close range.

“We competed well in a lot of areas,” MacDonald said. “Our set piece was a lot better.”

It certainly was. The Blues’ lineout was significantly better; they won all 13 of theirs and nabbed a couple from the hosts and they probably didn’t get the rewards they deserved at scrum time.

One of the few negatives was a shoulder injury for hooker James Parsons suffered late in the match, one likely to keep him out of the Stormers match. “It looked pretty serious,” MacDonald said.

Another is another yellow card for Sotutu. “I felt a yellow card when you’re not making any contact with the head was pretty tough but it’s an area he has to get better at obviously because it’s his second yellow card,” he said.

Otherwise it was pretty rosy for the visitors. Even MacDonald’s decision to get right wing Matt Duffie on the field in the second half paid instant dividends with a brilliant catch of Black’s cross-kick and offload for Perofeta’s try.

“I thought Stevie had a great game at fullback – he was very brave under the high ball and dangerous on attack,” MacDonald said. “He’s got a skillset that suits that position and obviously he’s a bloody good No 10 as well. Harry was busy at No 12 and a good foil for Otere. I thought it went well, I thought they all played well and TJ Faiane came off the bench and added some experience later which we were hoping for.

“At times we’ve lacked a little bit of composure and he (Black) brought that. He’s a good organiser and really accurate with his line kicks and goalkicking.

“It’s good for our confidence – we’ve been putting in some good effort on the training field but probably haven’t got the performances on the grass. We showed a lot of fight which we probably didn’t show last weekend. It was a good response from the team.

“They care about the jersey and team obviously and they showed that tonight. We’re really pleased with that. There are still areas of the game we have to get better at – we get that but if we play with heart like that every week you’re always a chance of getting a result.”

This article first appeared on and was republished with permission.

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