While there’s plenty of positives to take out of their win over the Hurricanes on Saturday, the Blues missed a number of opportunities in the first-half which so nearly came back to haunt them.
Even though they largely controlled the first half, and with the Hurricanes going down to 14-men after lock James Blackwell was yellow carded, the Blues still trailed 11-7 at the half-time break. Ardie Savea was particularly impactful, with James Parsons and Bryn Hall both speaking about his influence in this week’s episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod.
But a try late to Rieko Ioane saw the visitors run out to what would seem like a comfortable victory, winning 31-16 at Sky Stadium in Wellington. The win sees them currently sitting on top of the ladder, with a points differential two better than the reigning champions, the Crusaders.
While former Blues captain James Parsons was clearly thrilled with the win away from home, it’s how they’re learning to win ugly which he seemed particularly excited about when reviewing the match.
“An away win is huge. We spoke about the crucial nature of this fixture probably blue out chances of winning Super Rugby Aotearoa last year,” Parsons said on the Aotearoa Rugby Pod. “So to go away in round one and get a result like this, and probably left a lot out there.
“I know as a group and hearing Leon [McDonald] speak afterwards, he’s rapped with the result and really happy with the second forty and the shift that the forwards made and the game drivers.
“But left a lot of points out there and a lot of opportunities but the beauty is, they’re learning to win when they’re not quite performing at their best and that’s a massive growth in this team’s development.”
The Blues were somewhat held back by the influence of Hurricanes captain Ardie Savea, who simply had himself a game.
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But the Blues adjusted at half-time and it’s debatable to say, but didn’t really look like losing. Their improved squad depth over the last few years has arguably been their most significant improvement, with the calibre of players that they’re bringing off the bench one of their greatest assets as they begin another push for an evasive Super Rugby title.
When the teams were announced for round one, the Blues had named a formidable back-row made up of All Blacks Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii and Hoskins Sotutu.
But what that meant is that world-class talent had to start the match from the bench, including props Karl Tu’unukuafe, Ofa Tu’ungafasi and a breakout player from last year in Tom Robinson.
Robinson was highlighted by Parsons on the Pod, as being a game-changing impact player who contributed to a crucial score.
“The Blues forwards in that second forty really rolled up their sleeves and got the job done. The bench that came on really added an impact, and I think a crucial change for the Blues was at the 68-minute mark in Tom Robinson.
“I thought Tom Robinsons sub and his energy really brought them home.
“He was just into everything. The biggest thing that I saw was that support line on Mark Telea. No one was around him and then out of nowhere you saw that big red lock and he just smashed that ruck. It was just such a crucial moment.”
Agreeing with Parsons, Hall spoke about his experience down South with the Crusaders, and how the Blues may be benefiting from just that now.
“The substitutes that came on, they added impact. Especially in these derby games where you probably find at the 50 or 60-minute mark, it’s pretty much a stalemate, then it’s usually on the bench who comes on and adds more of an impact, that actually ends up getting the results in the game and I think the Blues did really well with that with the guys that we’ve talked about.”
“It’s amazing what competition can do as well. You talked around previously with the example of the Crusaders around competitiveness. That 60 to 80-minute mark, traditionally we’ve had some success around those time frames.
“You look at the Blues now, that 23 that you can play or whoever you pick now, they do a job when they come on and they add and add. They actually adds to them wanting to probably play more minutes.
Parsons, who is a former All Blacks hooker, added that it’s a “great luxury” to have depth in the squad now, which is only going to serve the Auckland-based side well.
“That’s the nature of this beast and this competition, you need someone to be able to step in straight away and nothing changes, and that level of standard is kept. And it’s exciting because they certainly know themselves that they didn’t perform at the level that they want.”
Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below or find it on your preferred streaming service.
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