Rugby: Blues better but still lose

By Kris Shannon

Ma'a Nonu of the Blues looks on after losing the round 10 Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Reds at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images.
Ma'a Nonu of the Blues looks on after losing the round 10 Super Rugby match between the Blues and the Reds at Eden Park. Photo / Getty Images.

Blues 11
Reds 23

They may be getting closer but the Blues are still without a second Super 15 win after falling 23-11 to the Reds at Auckland's Eden Park tonight.

Following last weekend's see-saw 30-27 loss to the Highlanders, the Blues produced another up-and-down performance, dominating the second half but failing to find a vital breakthrough.

The Reds led 15-8 at halftime and increased their advantage to nine points shortly after the break. From that point on, it was all the Blues but they ended with little to show for their efforts.

The home side huffed and puffed, controlling possession and spending the majority of the second spell camped in the Reds' half, but had only a Gareth Anscombe penalty to show for it.

Blues coach Pat Lam said he was again disappointed with his charges' efforts, especially with their tactical play in wet weather conditions.

"As soon as the conditions caved in, it's quite a simple game,'' he said. "You've got to play field position and it's going to come down to who makes the least mistakes.''

It was the Blues who made the early mistakes, something Lam saw as crucial in the outcome.

"It was quite a messy game but you really want to get on the front foot first and get ahead. Right from the start, we were chasing the game. They struck early and then fed off our errors.''

The loss leaves the Blues, a pre-season favourite in some quarters, stranded on the bottom of the Super 15 table, with their week three win over the Bulls in Pretoria still their only success from the campaign.

That showed no signs of changing in the early stages of tonight's game, with many yet to take their seat when the Reds went in front. The defending champions claimed their own kickoff before Ben Lucas put a fine kick to the left touchline where Digby Ioane dotted down in his 50th Super Rugby game and first after a five-week suspension for a dangerous tackle.

The match was 48 seconds old, and already similar to a lot of the Blues' efforts this season. And when Luke Morahan scored in the same corner after six minutes, it looked set to be another long night for Blues fans.

After ceding the majority of territory and possession in the opening 25 minutes, the Blues began to improve defensively and show some enterprise with the ball in hand - and they quickly capitalised.

A promising attack from the home side was interrupted when Davies tackled Anscombe without the ball, and Blues captain Luke Braid elected to put the penalty into touch. The gamble played off, both for his team and personally, when Braid crashed over following a strong rolling maul to make it 12-5.

The Blues narrowed the deficit to four points with 10 minutes left in the half, after the Reds kept out a series of pick-and-go attacks close to their line only to concede a penalty.

Blues reject Mike Harris restored the Reds' seven-point lead to cap a half that left Lam frustrated.

"Not with commitment and effort - I can see the boys working - but tactically it was poor,'' he said. "Trying to play rugby in our own half when it's been bucketing down was pretty much suicide.

"It certainly wasn't part of the plan and that's something we need to address really fast this week. It's fair to say I was not happy at halftime.''

The Reds quickly reinforced their authority after the restart, immediately setting up camp on the Blues line before wing Dom Shipperley was the grateful recipient of a clever cut-out pass from Will Genia to make it 20-8.

A prolonged period of possession followed for the Blues, but they failed to force a breakthrough and settled for another Anscombe penalty to narrow the Reds' advantage to nine.

That was it for the scoring as the Reds continued to frustrate a dominant Blues attack.

Blues 11 (L Braid try; Anscombe 2 pens)

Reds 23 (Ioane, Morahan, Shipperley tries; Harris 2 pens, con)

HT: 8-15

- APNZ

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