Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Blues back on rollercoaster

This week's bye comes at the right time to fix issues emerging for the erratic Auckland side's inside backs.

Halfback Bryn Hall of the Blues showed his inexperience on Friday night. Photo / Getty Images
Halfback Bryn Hall of the Blues showed his inexperience on Friday night. Photo / Getty Images

From the high of their victory over the Highlanders to a new low of being dismantled by the Brumbies, the Blues are back on the rollercoaster and this week's bye comes at the right time for them to attempt to fix the issues emerging among their inside backs.

The 26-9 defeat in Canberra on Friday night highlighted the inexperience of halfback Bryn Hall and first-five Simon Hickey. After their positive starts to the season neither has become a poor player overnight, but both were targeted by a Brumbies team, including experienced inside back pairing Nic White and Matt Toomua, plus fullback Jesse Mogg.

Mogg, while he didn't attack in his usual freewheeling style, used his raking kicks to keep the pressure on.

The Brumbies targeted Hickey - they either ran at him, with Pat McCabe benefiting directly with two tries, or kicked to him.

The Hurricanes, also on a bye this week and lying in wait in Wellington in a fortnight, will study this match with interest.

Hall is Blues coach John Kirwan's only choice as starting halfback in the absence of Piri Weepu, and Hickey is unlikely to lose his spot given how far he is ahead of Chris Noakes and Benji Marshall. While Kirwan's forwards enjoyed a dominant scrum, he will ask them for more aggression around the field against the Hurricanes and Ma'a Nonu must help to ease the load on his inside backs.

Kirwan said he addressed Hickey's performance with him straight after the match. "He's an intelligent young man," Kirwan said.

"We've spoken about it. Our kicking game wasn't executed as well as we would have liked and we also would have liked to have hung on to the ball for longer. But we're still in the fight."

The tightness of the competition will help the Blues remain in the mix, but their struggles away from home are becoming an extra burden.

Under Kirwan the Blues have won away only once - a stretch of a dozen losses going back to their win in the season opener against the Hurricanes in February last year. Kirwan said that poor away form hadn't been addressed, but it would have to improve if they were to feature in the playoffs.

"You have to win away from home to have a chance of cracking this competition. I've said that before. The next block of games really is where this tournament starts.

"We have the bye then face the Hurricanes away, Waratahs and Reds at home and then the Chiefs away. We have to win our home games and at least one away game to be in the mix."

The Blues' improved scrum didn't get the rewards it deserved at Canberra Stadium. Penalised twice in the first half, they appeared to do the same thing after the break and won a tighthead.

Such is the lottery of the modern game but where the Blues' forwards failed was in the contact area.

- APNZ

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