Rugby: Pivotal win to lift Blues campaign

By Wynne Gray

Pat Lam. Photo / Kenny Rodger
Pat Lam. Photo / Kenny Rodger

Bottom line, the Blues had to come out on top. Victory was not negotiable, they had to get back in the winners' circle against the Lions.

This was a massive game for the Blues, perhaps a pivotal moment in their campaign even at this early stage of the Super 15.

Another slip-up in South Africa and their confidence would drop a touch, they would begin to doubt that this third campaign under Pat Lam was going to be much different.

Victory would reverse those thoughts, it would give them a filip for their jaunt to face the Force in Perth.

Job done 41-32, a bonus point result at altitude at Ellis Park, time for some applause before they roll the sleeves up again in round four.

Lam had rolled the dice, leaving a clutch of senior men including captain Keven Mealamu on the bench for some late impact on the Highveld.

The Blues were adrift 17-25 at the interval but then rolled home with three tries as they blitzed the second half, keeping the locals to a solitary converted try in that spell.

There were stages when that turnaround looked unlikely but the Blues managed to snuff out four likely tries to the Lions with a mixture of fortune, TMO decisions and defence.

The Blues cavalry came from the bench, the scrum stiffened if anything and Rene Ranger brought some exciting touches and two tries.

"We had two physical games, we were at altitude and the experience was needed at the end," Lam said.

The plan had been to bring some spark in the late stages of the game and that idea had worked. "You can't underestimate the difficulty playing in Africa," Lam said.

"At halftime we said whoever controlled the ball would win the game. We showed character on defence, we were fortunate and pleased."

Once the emotion of the victory subsides and they rerun the tape, Lam and his crew will note a match of moderate quality. But within that framework they had some serious sparks.

Isaia Toeava and Jared Payne were backline jewels once more, supplying a great deal of the consistent venom the side needs.

Goalkicking produced 100 per cent success from Luke McAlister who also ran the side efficiently from five-eighth until he gave way for the last quarter.

Up front, John Afoa was still belting along hard at the finish. His work rate, and that of fellow shaven heads Tony Woodcock and Tom McCartney, was high tempo with some quality pilfering too from Luke Braid.

"We got a lift from our reserves, we had to empty the tank and then get help from the others who brought us home," captain Jerome Kaino said.

The game was still in the balance 10 minutes from time as the Blues clung to a two-point lead. However, they were gifted a scrum and with the Blues pack in control, halfback Alby Mathewson had half a metre start and ignited his afterburners for a clear run to the line.

That squashed the Lions' hopes of ending their 17-match losing streak and gave the Blues the comfort of claiming some profit from their twin-match sortie to the Republic.

- NZ Herald

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