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'That was just the complete performance': Do the Crusaders have a challenge on their hands?

By Sam Smith
Bryce Heem. (Photo by AAP Image/Scott Barbour)

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Before the season kicked off, the Blues were considered by many to be the likeliest contenders to pose a problem to the Crusaders during this year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa season.

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While they managed wins against the Hurricanes and Highlanders to kick off their campaign, things soon turned to custard for the Blues, with the Auckland-based side suffering defeats to the Crusaders (twice), Chiefs and Highlanders, leaving them out of contention for a finals spot before their last round match against an under-strength Chiefs even kicked off.

The win over the Chiefs gave the Blues some momentum, however, and they’ve carried that form into the new Super Rugby Trans-Tasman competition, where the slate was wiped clean and every time was on equal footing from the opening round.

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Blues fans would have rejoiced at the performance their team put on the park against the Rebels in Melbourne, with the visitors scoring an impressive 50-3 victory and showcasing all the attacking talents they have at their disposal.

Speaking on the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod, ex-Blues captain James Parsons has heaped praise on his former side for the ‘complete performance’ they showcased on Saturday night.

While there weren’t too many highlights in the first half, with penalties the only form of scoring until after the half-time hooter had sounded, the Blues buckled down and took control of a match that had some scrappy moments early on in the piece.

“It was a little bit scratchy, the first 30 minutes with a few errors,” Parsons acknowledged. “There were 11 unforced errors and most of those came in those 30 minutes but what I liked was the tactical shift and that patience.”

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The Blues started the match by peppering the corners with kicks, forcing the Rebels to play out from their own 22 and forcing them to make countless tackles on defence.

It was that suffocating play that forced errors from the home side and ultimately allowed the Blues to build some scoreboard pressure, going up 12-3 before the first try.

The Blues were at fault earlier in the season of turning down 3-pointers on offer to instead try and score tries – which ultimately cost them their first game against the Chiefs. They didn’t make that same mistake against the Rebels, however.

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“We saw every time they got a penalty, they went for 3,” Parsons said. “Even from long distance, Zarn Sullivan’s got a good boot so they went for the long kick.

“At 12-3, although for the amount of ball they had and their tactical kicking game it didn’t show on the scoreboard, you knew the Rebels were being run around a lot. They were having to make a lot more tackles and you knew [the reward] was going to come at some stage and it was just before halftime, obviously, it clicked. And that flowed onto the second half.”

Once the Blues had taken control of the match, they shifted their focus – and that’s when the tries started raining down.

Parsons also praised the willingness for forwards and backs to interchange their roles while the set-piece was also a clear weapon for the Blues, dominating scrums and lineouts.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the performance, however, was their work on defence.

While scoring 50 points is an incredible feat, conceding zero tries is a rare accomplishment and something the Blues have managed just three times since 2015.

“Bryce Heem’s denied try is the best example of their defence,” said Parsons.

“Finlay Christy shoots out of a cannon at the back of that lineout and Rieko Ioane closes it off and puts [the Rebels players’] skillset under pressure and it obviously bounces up into Bryce Heem’s hand and gets a little knock on from Rieko but that was the defensive pressure all night that the Blues showed.

“Although all that beautiful stuff on attack that I’ve just spoken about was great, it was more on the other side of the ball that it was most impressive for me and that was just the complete performance – but it was all done about by working them down in that first forty minutes to be able to open the flood gates and finish on top of them.”

Parsons, however, didn’t want to lump any undue pressure on his former teammates and was pleased that forwards coach Tom Coventry came out after the match and acknowledged that there’s still a long way to go before the end of the season.

The Blues will hope to continue their momentum against the hapless Waratahs at Eden Park on Saturday evening.

Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:

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'That was just the complete performance': Do the Crusaders have a challenge on their hands?

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