Rugby: Blues playoff hopes dashed

Luke Braid of the Blues is tackled. Photo / Getty Images
Luke Braid of the Blues is tackled. Photo / Getty Images

Sharks 29
Blues 23

The pain continues for the Blues.

They remain chained to the bottom of the Super 15 as they fell to the Sharks in a Black Friday mishap at Eden Park tonight.

If there was some vague optimism from the Blues they could still make this year's playoffs, they must have disappeared with their latest defeat.

They were ragged and ruthless often in the same movement, exasperating and inefficient for all of the match.

This was their fourth successive loss, compounding a week of misery for the franchise after coach Pat Lam's tearful revelations of racial abuse against his family.

The Blues were average. At times they showed some semblance of pattern, ambition and ability but it was far too sporadic.

Instead an underpowered Sharks team grabbed their resolve for a courageous victory in their last game on tour.

The opening quarter mirrored the Sharks match last week although this time they were the beneficiaries.

Last round they got more and more frustrated as they dominated possession while the Hurricanes claimed the points from pilfered ball.

Tonight the Blues spent much of the initial stages in the Sharks' territory but restarted from halfway three times after conceding 15 points.

Twin strikes came from intercepts.

Sharks skipper Keegan Daniel claimed the first from Benson Stanley's inside pass.

The flanker was run down by Gareth Anscombe just short of the tryline after a 70m dash, but his teammates were up in support for lock Steven Sykes to drive over.

To complicate that blow, Rene Ranger was marched a further 10m for backchat and Patrick Lambie guided the kick over.

No 8 Chris Lowrey was the next culprit, lurking out in midfield and flinging a long pass which was intercepted.

Sharks hooker Craig Burden who began his rugby life in the backs, claimed the ball and motored away from the chasing group in a 55m dash to the line.

Disbelief filtered through the 18,000 crowd and the Blues line-up as they cajoled each other behind the goal line.

They almost caught up in the second quarter, with Anscombe kicking a penalty, a dropped goal and converting Tony Woodcock's try.

The loosehead prop smashed over for a strong finish from close-range after he and the Blues scrum were allowed to claim a tighthead despite his side of the scrum collapsing.

It was a welcome piece of fortune for the Blues, whose anxiety levels looked to escalate even more as the match progressed.

They missed passes, spilled possession, took the ball into touch and generally lacked conviction about their plans.

But they dominated the field and Woodcock's try gave them a helpful impetus before the break just as they lost captain Keven Mealamu to a recurring calf muscle.

The bright first half finish continued straight after the break from another scrum mess.

The Sharks were impeded, halfback Charl McLeod biffed a loose pass into midfield where Stanley claimed it and scored to put his side into the lead.

Twin pieces of fortune and the Blues must have thought Friday the 13th was going to unfold favourably.

Minutes later they were pondering just the reverse.

They yielded two converted tries as the Sharks reacted brilliantly. Burden dabbed round a ruck and found his skipper Daniel who scythed over to give his side the lead once more.

Then came a bizarre moment. The exciting Lambie made a superb cut, who else but Daniel was in support before his pass to Tim Whitehead was knocked on.

The ball rebounded from Hadleigh Parkes back to Whitehead who crossed the line with referee Stave Walsh allowing the try.

No one seemed sure if the ruling was legitimate. But the Sharks had a handy nine-point lead in a messy but exciting contest.

It was time for reinforcements. All Blacks Ali Williams and Piri Weepu got the call-up and pleas for some test standard reprieve.

SHARKS 29 (Craig Burden, Keegan Daniel, Steven Sykes, Tim Whitehead tries Patrick Lambie 3 cons pen) bt BLUES 23 (Benson Stanley, Tony Woodcock tries Gareth Anscombe 2 cons 2 pens drop goal) at Eden Park. Referee: Steve R. Walsh.

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