Rugby: Blues season on the rocks

By Daniel Richardson

Blue coach Sir John Kirwan. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Blue coach Sir John Kirwan. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The Blues are starting to watch their Super Rugby season slip away.

A 39-20 defeat at the hands of the Hurricanes in Wellington last night was a frustrating blow to the Blues who have dropped five from eight this year.

They're last in the New Zealand conference, sitting outside the top six on the overall spectrum, and Blues coach Sir John Kirwan attached the dreaded 'must-win' term to their upcoming Anzac Day outing against the Waratahs on Friday.

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"I thought we lacked a lot of energy at times,'' Kirwan said of his side's loss to the Hurricanes. "We need to get home and lick our wounds and look forward to the Waratahs game, which becomes a must-win.''

Despite holding a 17-13 lead over the Hurricanes at the Cake Tin at the break, the Blues fell apart in the second half even though they enjoyed a numerical advantage in manpower as hooker Dane Coles spent time in the sin bin for the home side.

Kirwan's men were unable to get anything going in the soggy conditions in the capital, while the Hurricanes didn't let the greasy ball bother them as they ran with vigour on the counter-attack.

Their endeavour paid off as they were rewarded with four second-half tries, while the Blues failed to fire.

"It was a big night for both franchises,'' Kirwan said. ``They took five points so they got straight up [near] the top of the table and we are under pressure.''

The win was the Hurricanes' third on the bounce and they're now firmly in the playoff picture.

Kirwan's ongoing headache this year has been finding a reliable first-five and things looked on the up for the Blues during the first 30 minutes of last night's game as the recalled Chris Noakes produced a steady shift.

But a jolt to the ribs and a head knock shortly after saw him leave the field and not return as his status for Friday's game remained unclear.

When Noakes left the paddock, new recruit Benji Marshall was summoned from the bench but didn't work his way in to the game as the Blues were starved of the ball.

"Chris drove us round the park in the first half,'' Kirwan said. "Benji came on, he's new to the game and been playing fullback lately. He goes to 10 and it's pretty hard to drive the football team and if you're not getting go forward up front it's difficult and that's what happened.''

The playoffs aren't out of the reckoning for the Blues but they need to find some consistency and concoct a formula to win on the road as last night's loss marked their 12th-straight defeat away from home.

Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett said his side always had faith in what they were doing despite being down on the scoreboard at the split.

"We were pretty confident with the way we were playing and the pressure we were putting on the Blues.''

His assessment was correct as his team finished strongly and will meet the Reds in Wellington next Saturday night.

Hurricanes 39 (Alapati Leiua, Julian Savea, TJ Perenara, Conrad Smith, Motu Matu'u tries; Beauden Barrett 2 pen, 4 con) Blues 20 (George Moala try, penalty try; Chris Noakes pen, con, Benji Marshall pen, con) 13-17

- APNZ

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