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'That hurts': Blues determined to avoid repeat of 2018 Rebels loss at Eden Park

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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It’s been four years since the Blues were stunned by the Melbourne Rebels in front of their home fans, but the Aucklanders haven’t forgotten about that dark day in their recent history.

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During a dismal 2018 Super Rugby campaign that saw them finish ahead of only the last-placed Sunwolves, the Blues suffered the ignominy of losing to the Rebels in a 20-10 defeat in front of a dire Eden Park crowd of little more than 6000.

That round 16 loss was the first time the Blues had ever been beaten by the Rebels on their own turf, but it was the way in which the proud franchise seemingly went down without pulling a punch that stung the most.

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It’s for that reason that Blues assistant coach Dan Halangahu has ensured that his players haven’t forget that result as they head into their first match against the Rebels in Auckland since that match four years ago.

“They’re one of the few teams that can boast about travelling across the ditch and having a win at Eden Park, so that’s in our memory as well, that the Rebels have come here and had success, and that hurts,” Halangahu said on Wednesday.

“That hurts our team, and we have a recent history of a team that has one over us, so we’ll be going out there to correct that.”

Halangahu’s comments are timely given the Crusaders were on the losing end of a shock result that saw the Waratahs pick up a rare win over the Christchurch-based franchise last weekend.

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That same round, the Brumbies outclassed the Hurricanes in Canberra while the Rebels did enough to topple Moana Pasifika in Melbourne.

All in all, the Australian sides proved their competitiveness in the most recent round of Super Rugby Pacific action, as exemplified by the fact that the Reds and Force were both within four points or less of wins over the Chiefs and Blues, respectively.

This Friday’s fixture between the Blues and Rebels shapes as a more imbalanced one, though, given the hosts are riding high at the top of the Super Rugby Pacific table after nine wins on the trot.

The Blues also emerged victorious the last time they faced the Rebels, trouncing them 50-3 at AAMI Park in Melbourne to open their title-winning Super Rugby Trans-Tasman series last year.

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Therefore, they are heavy favourites to deliver a similarly emphatic win over their Australian counterparts, but Halangahu believes the Rebels, and the Australian franchises as a whole, deserve far more credit than they have been given.

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“We’re not looking at the table, we’re not looking at who’s to come. We’re respecting what the Rebels have done. They’ve been a team that has pushed sides,” he said.

“Over the recent weeks, they’ve been really unlucky in a couple of their performances against some of the powerhouses that you mentioned, the Brumbies and the Reds.

“They’ve been unlucky in a number of games, so we know that them and themselves is an occasion.”

Despite their poor record this year, registering just three wins from 10 matches to find themselves in eighth place and 25 points astray from the Blues, Halangahu said the Rebels are more than capable of punishing his side.

He made note of their mauling prowess, spearheaded by the likes of Wallabies locks Matt Philip and Rob Leota, as well as the long range goal-kicking accuracy of Wallabies utility back Reece Hodge.

Halangahu said if the Blues don’t improve the ill-discipline they were guilty of in their last two matches against the Fijian Drua and Western Force, the Rebels could easily use either of those facets of their game as weapons to score from.

“I think the first one, which is part of the game that all rugby lovers are obsessed about at the moment, is the maul,” he said of the threats the Rebels pose.

“They scored maul tries and they’ve stopped maul tries, so it’s a huge part of the game, as much as Marshy [Justin Marshall] wishes it wasn’t.

“We know it’s a huge part of the game and it’s where they’ve had success, so I know these big boys, I’m sure they’ve spent a lot of time doing things that I don’t quite understand this week. That’s one thing.

“Outside of that, they’ve got a few world-class backs. Reece Hodge kicks the ball further than just about anyone, and he’ll punish us.

“Our discipline hasn’t been good enough, and if we do that against Hodge, they could be taking penalty shots from well inside their own half.

“Couple of key points for us is being disciplined and, if not, knowing that they’ll either go for the corner and put pressure on us at maul time, or they’ll be taking three points.”

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