Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: Blues thrown to Lions but who's hungrier?

Victor Vito was imperious for the Hurricanes against the Blues. Photo / Getty Images
Victor Vito was imperious for the Hurricanes against the Blues. Photo / Getty Images

Gratitude isn't the normal emotion felt when thrown to the Lions, but it will be for the Blues this week.

The equally hapless South African franchise present a realistic opportunity for the Blues to finally halt a seven-game losing streak.

This is what the Blues' season has come to - a wooden spoon decider with the Lions and no one entirely sure who are favourites. Home advantage will swing the odds in favour of the Blues but it will still take a massive leap of faith to be confident about a home victory.

They continue to pay the price for not having nailed consistent selections at No 8, halfback and first five. The quality offered by the Hurricanes in these crucial berths wasn't quite the story of the night when they clashed with the Blues in Wellington, but it nearly was.

Even though he was forced to operate at the boot of a crumbling scrum, Victor Vito was imperious.

He has found himself this season, driving hard and low in a way he never previously did.

The old worry about him being a pre-contact player - exclusively programmed to pass before the tackle - has gone.

TJ Perenara wiped the floor with his old mentor, Piri Weepu. The Hurricanes certainly looked to have kept the wheat and tossed the Blues the chaff on the halfback front.

The youngster was magical: brave, relentless, skilled and creative. He was the beating heart that set the tempo of the game. Weepu, on the other hand, lacked the same control. He again let aimless kicking into his repertoire. It was strange to see Weepu, a phenomenally skilled and usually astute operator, kick so lamely. His conditioning may have come back, but his confidence has gone.

The same was true of Ma'a Nonu, who was ultra-reluctant to run straight and hard. He played behind the gain line and dithered. Nonu dithering ... how did it ever come to that?

It may have been because he looked at the backline he was no longer part of and, for the first time, felt the hurt for real.

He clobbered Beauden Barrett twice as if he really wanted to and that may have been driven by the sense of frustration he felt at not having the Taranaki No 10 in his team.

Barrett again took control of proceedings by playing flat, with his head up and hands out. He brought his backline into the game and displayed some magnificent skills passing out of contact.

Michael Hobbs never had the same control or dynamism and perhaps epitomised the difference between him and Barrett when he charged into the Hurricanes defence late in the game when there was a stream of Blues players queuing up outside him.

The Blues are so broken it is beyond comprehension they can be fixed, or even patched up, before they reach the June break. What else can coach Pat Lam do? Bring in Lachie Munro to jazz things up?

Right now, the only solace anyone can take is that the commitment and effort are outstanding. This is a team in free fall, disintegrating by the minute, but the players at least empty themselves every game.

Honest endeavour is all they have and they are going to have to hope that it will be enough to beat the Lions.

- Herald on Sunday

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