Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Blues bounce back with win

Steven Luatua. Blues v Cheetahs. Investec Super Rugby Season. Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. Saturday 22 March 2014. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport.co.nz
Steven Luatua. Blues v Cheetahs. Investec Super Rugby Season. Eden Park, Auckland, New Zealand. Saturday 22 March 2014. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/Photosport.co.nz

Blues 40
Cheetahs 30

Welcome back to the Blues, Jerome Kaino and Ma'a Nonu, a franchise where you never quite know what you're going to get from one week to the next but it's usually entertaining.

First Take: Reserve judgement on Blues' resurgence

In John Kirwan's vernacular, the "rollercoaster" is back on the rise, and after two consecutive losses it needed to be. It wasn't entirely smooth, though, tonight at Eden Park against the Cheetahs, and how he must be glad he had that considerable firepower on the reserves bench.

If there was a sense of waiting in this match, it wasn't entirely down to the fact that it was to be Kaino's first match here since the World Cup final, or that it was Nonu's return from his year at the Highlanders, but it was a factor.

Kirwan had promised 30 minutes for the high-profile duo and they finally ran on with 27 left on the clock; Kaino for lock Tom Donnelly and Nonu for centre George Moala.

It was an extremely popular decision.

Donnelly's exit meant Luatua went to lock, with Kaino, who left his tracksuit top on almost until he took the field, moving to the blindside flank. Nonu's entrance pushed Jackson Willison to centre.

Their initial duties were almost entirely defensive; at 30-16 down, the Cheetahs were only two converted tries away from the Blues and they played like a team with belief in themselves. Kirwan's men have turned the fast finish into something of an art form this season, but after finding themselves up by so many, there was a momentum shift and not in the way the coach would have liked.

Kirwan had asked for effort ahead of this match, an important one to get his side back on track. He has tinkered with his side in order to create competition, but it seemed a little contrived. However, with Kaino and Nonu on the bench, it was noticeable how much effort No8 Peter Saili, in particular, was putting in. Luatua had fewer opportunites, but it is the former who is the most vulnerable following Kaino's arrival.

In the midfield, Willison, apart from a defensive drop, which was generously ruled as knocked back, had an intelligent game. His ability to see space and take advantage of it with kicks put the Blues on attack time and again in the first half. It was his kick and assist which set up Tevita Li's try, a movement which fullback Willie le Roux will have trouble forgetting. It was embarrassment, rather than an injury, which kept him on the ground long after Li had scored, his failure to pick up a simple ball out of character.

Kaino appears fit and lean after two years in Japan and Nonu engaged with proceedings. Both players will become more and more important for the Blues as the season progresses. For now, though, Kirwan will be happy they came through unscathed, as did his team, with five points for and up down fairground ride and extremely valuable dividend.

- APNZ

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n2 at 01 Aug 2014 13:33:17 Processing Time: 638ms