One step forward, two back. All too familiar for the Blues. Dejected and searching for answers, Tana Umaga could do no more than attempt to shoulder the blame after the Blues shock loss to the Sunwolves in Tokyo on Saturday.

Embarrassing results are not totally foreign for the Blues. Last year they were thumped 43-5 by the Lions in Johannesburg. But being the first Kiwi side to lose to the Sunwolves, and conceding 41 unanswered second half points in the process, is undoubtedly a new low.

From the high of rolling the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park to this shambolic 48-21 defeat, Umaga tried to shield his players from criticism by putting himself in the firing line.

To put the result in perspective, after two seasons the Sunwolves' only victories have come over the Bulls, Jaguares and, now, Blues.


In their last two matches in South Africa against the Stormers and Lions, the Japanese outfit conceded 146 points and scored 22.

Umaga questioned everything from basing themselves in Japan for 12 days to acclimatise to the heat to his side's poor attitude.

"You can't take anything for granted in this competition," Umaga said. "I've got to look at myself and the way I help prepare this team and whether we did that right coming over early and trying to motivate them for a one-off game after the break. I'll look at myself first before I look at the players and that performance.

"Did I help them enough? I can't play but I can still have an influence on how they prepare. We thought what we were doing was right but obviously it wasn't. We can't go pointing fingers at players and what they're doing; we've got to look at ourselves. It's probably symptomatic of our season and not being able to live with being favourites and the pressure that comes along with that.

"They just wanted it more. That's all down to attitude. At the contact area they challenged us there and their defence was relentless. It made us make errors. We lacked a bit of focus on our game and when you haven't got the attitude right we get what we got today."

Umaga suggested otherwise but, ultimately, the loss means the Blues finish worse off than his first season in charge, with one fewer win (seven from 15 games) and two competition points (37 compared to 39). Once again they are last in the New Zealand conference; 14 points behind the Highlanders.

Instead of honouring departing All Blacks Charlie Faumuina and Steven Luatua and heading into next year harnessing positivity, the pressure will now be on Umaga to deliver playoffs in the final year of his contract.

"I'm positive in what I can do and confident in my own ability. I have to be otherwise I shouldn't be here. I've got another year on my contract. I'll see that out and see what happens after that. We all realise this is a results-driven game. As long as we're improving hopefully I keep putting opportunities up there for myself.

"Everyone remembers your last performance and it's not a good one for us going into our end of season. The hardest thing is we've got guys who put a lot into this club and to send them off on that note is not fitting from us.

"We're at the point we are because of these inconsistencies we're showing. We're not being able to front games where we're meant to do well in. That's attitude and preparation and mindset and we've got to keep pushing on that.

"I'm still happy with certain aspects of this season and if we can get more of those we could be in a different spot this time next year. We've got to make sure everything about our season doesn't fall into this one game.

"I think it's another step forward from where we were last year. We'd like to have made those steps in three and fours but at the moment we're making them in ones and twos. It's a slow process."

If there was a bittersweet moment for Umaga it came around his good friend and former Hurricanes team-mate Filo Tiatia, coach of the Sunwolves.

"He's done a great job with the side he's got and the parameters he's got - getting his side two weeks before the season starts and trying to keep them motivated when they've had some tough games but there's some light at the end of the tunnel when you can chuck out performances like they did today. I'm proud of what he's being doing but obviously it's not too good for me."​